UNC Health Care
splash of water

Make a Splash with Water-Based Exercise

Kids swimming underwater together
Swimming is great exercise and its fun!

If running or high-impact aerobics put too much strain on your body, you may want to trade your running shoes for a bathing suit and try a water-based exercise.

From water aerobics to water-based physical therapy (hydrotherapy), aquatic activities have many positive health benefits for individuals of all ages and abilities.

“While you do have the force of water to help with resistance, water-based exercise is low-impact,” says Kara Gustafsson, wellness instructor at REX Wellness Center of Wakefield.

Wateraerobics class
Exercise in water is a great alternative for those with medical complications.

As a low-impact physical activity, water-based exercise allows you to reap the aerobic benefits of high-impact physical exercise without the wear and tear on your body that traditional aerobic exercises may cause.

Hydrotherapy can help individuals with chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, improve the use of their affected joints without aggravating symptoms.

“If you suffer from knee pain and your doctor recommends that you exercise, water is a great place to begin,” Gustafsson says.  “By being in the water, you are able to do things you cannot do on land, such as walk without aid, run, leap, jump, etc.  You are weightless in the water with no impact and therefore you do not feel the pain.”

Father and son playing in the pool
Families can keep close and have fun in the water and sun.

Exercise in water is a great alternative for those with medical complications.

Individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, may find that exercising in water relieves their anxiety about being active and may even relieve pain by increasing blood flow to the muscles.

If you don’t suffer from chronic disease, but still cope with joint or muscle pain, you may also see health improvements when changing from a land-based to a water-based exercise program if you are in the water a few times a week or if you are an elite athlete who switches to a water class twice a month to ease your joints.

“The coolness of the water doesn’t make you overheat or get overly tired,” Gustafsson says.

Water aerobics and other water activities also can be beneficial to your mental health. Swimming can improve your mood by reducing stress and aiding relaxation.

“In water aerobics, you can let go of your worries that you are being judged on your movements. If you make a mistake there are no mirrors and nobody else can see you,” Gustafsson says. “Just use your time in the water to move, relax, have fun and try to not think about what’s going on at work or home or with your pain,”

Talk to your doctor to determine if aquatic exercises or hydrotherapy may benefit you.


If you’re interested in water-based exercise, contact your local wellness center. If you don’t have one, learn more about REX Wellness Centers and UNC Wellness Centers.