Water Aerobics: Easy on the Joints, Good for the Heart

Looking for an exercise routine that'll trim your waistline without hurting your joints? Low-impact water aerobics can boost heart health, increase muscular strength, and promote weight loss without the risk of injury.

water aerobics

Do your knees or ankles start barking when you go jogging, walking, or hiking? Water aerobics is easier on those aching joints while still adding to your muscle and cardio health.

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Splish-splash, you were taking a class! Remember that water aerobics lesson you used to make fun of while sitting poolside on vacation? Turns out it could make a huge difference to your health. “Water exercise is both fun and functional,” says Julie See, Director of Education for the Aquatic Exercise Association. “It is suitable for all ages and all ability levels, and programming can be modified to meet specific needs and goals.” That means it’s a great activity for people of different ages and athletic abilities.

What other exercise can you do in a swimsuit while grooving to thumping tunes? Not a strong swimmer? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to stand the whole time—the water is typically no more than chest high. So, don your bathing cap, dip in a toe, and get ready to make a splash with this fun workout. Here’s everything you need to know about water aerobics.

How Do Water Aerobics Workouts Help?

Have bad joints? Recovering from surgery or an injury? Water aerobics allows you to move without the pesky pain that accompanies physical activity.

Water makes us more buoyant, thereby reducing the amount of weight we’re carrying while exercising. It also adds a continuous resistance, upping our workout by forcing multiple muscles to engage while we move. This resistance makes our hearts work harder, which is good for cardiovascular health. Since our joints aren’t nagging us and our heart is pumping, we’ll be more likely to keep moving for longer—that’s great news for our physical health, not to mention calorie-reducing goals.


It all depends on how much “work” you want to do. The deeper you go, the less body weight you must contend with, since the water will keep you buoyant, reducing the pressure on your joints. If you immerse yourself up to your neck, you’ll carry about 10 percent of your body weight. If you stand in water that’s only waist-deep, you’ll carry about 50 percent. According to the Aquatic Exercise association, “shallow water programs are generally best performed in water that is about mid-chest depth for maximum comfort, control of movement and optimum toning benefits for the upper body.”

Health Benefits of Water Aerobics

Just because it’s done in the water doesn’t mean water aerobics is less efficient than an activity conducted on land. In fact, this form of exercise can be more effective than land-based activities, especially for those with conditions such as arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Australian researchers found that water exercises improved the mood, endurance, and energy levels of people with COPD.

As mentioned earlier, water aerobics provides a low-impact exercise alternative for those who have painful joints, chronic illnesses, injuries, and other health-related afflictions. Its health benefits are many: increased lean muscle tone, improved cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, improved endurance, stronger muscles, better flexibility, enhanced balance, and more. A Portuguese study of 48 overweight adults with knee osteoarthritis found that those who performed water aerobics regularly for three months noticed dramatic improvements in their symptoms, fitness levels, and overall quality of life.


According to the Aquatic Exercise Association, the recommended pool temperature for water aerobics is between 83 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s not hot-tub-worthy, this temperature is enough to keep the goosebumps at bay while cooling you enough to prevent overheating while you exercise. As with any activity, it’s important to warm up your muscles (by stretching or lightly walking, for instance) before you jump into the routine.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Doing Water Aerobics?

Gauging the number of calories burned can be a tricky calculation, on land or in the water. In order to gain a proper total, you have to factor in things such as your weight, gender, and the intensity of the workout. If you’re adding weights to your water routine, you’ll burn more than you would if you use your own body along with the water for resistance.

That said, it’s estimated that a person weighing 155 pounds will burn 149 calories during 30 minutes of water aerobics. A low-impact land-based aerobics class burns 205 calories for a 155-pound person in the same amount of time.

How Does Water Resistance Improve My Workout?

Being immersed in water is a great way to increase your exercise routine. Your muscles are forced to work against the resistance during every movement, which will result in more strength and tone overall. It’s like doing every tiny movement while holding a weight—you’re always using more strength to combat the resistance. “This helps to provide a more balanced workout as opposing muscles are involved, unlike on land where you typically need to reposition the body, or select a separate exercise, to provide adequate stimulation to both muscles of the pair,” states the Aquatic Exercise Association.

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Shandley McMurray

Shandley McMurray has written several of Belvoir’s special health reports on topics including stress & anxiety, coronary artery disease, healthy eyes and pain management. Shandley also has authored numerous articles … Read More

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