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Water, Recreation, Health, and Fun: It Must Be Summer

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By: Sara Butler


Water is the ultimate summer sidekick. It keeps you cool when the heat is on and is the perfect partner for beating those dog days of summer. So, drink up and dive in!

The best thing about water-based activities is that they’re fun. You can get in a water workout and not even realize you’re exercising because it’s such a good time. Whether you’re trying to cool off or up your activity level this summer, there are some important things to know about water-based activities to keep you safe and inspired.

Health benefits of water-based activities

Water-based activities offer numerous health benefits for people of all ages and fitness levels. There are a ton of advantages to taking your exercise and activities to the pool (or lake or ocean).

Low-impact exercise - Water-based activities like swimming, water aerobics, and aqua jogging are low-impact exercises. This makes them ideal for individuals with joint pain and arthritis or those recovering from injury. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on joints while still providing an effective workout.

Cardiovascular fitness - Swimming and other water-based exercises provide an excellent cardiovascular workout. These workouts help to strengthen your heart and improve circulation. Regular aquatic exercise can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of chronic disease (like heart disease), and improve the health of your cardiovascular system overall.

Muscle strength and endurance - Water offers resistance in all directions, requiring your muscles to work harder than they would on land. Water-based activities engage a wide range of muscle groups, including your core, arms, legs, and back, helping to improve strength, endurance, and muscle tone.

Flexibility and range of motion - The buoyancy and resistance of water allow for gentle stretching and an increased range of motion in your joints. Water-based activities promote flexibility and mobility, helping to improve joint function and reduce stiffness.

Weight management - Water exercises are effective for burning calories and promoting weight loss or weight maintenance. The resistance of water increases the calories burned while buoyancy reduces the impact on joints, making it a suitable option for individuals with obesity or mobility issues.

Stress reduction - Spending time in water has been shown to have a calming effect on the mind and body. Water-based activities can help reduce stress, anxiety, and tension, promoting relaxation and overall well-being.

Improved balance and coordination - Water provides a challenging environment for balance and coordination training. Activities such as water aerobics or aquatic yoga can help improve balance, stability, and proprioception, which is beneficial for older adults or individuals at risk of falls.

Healthy water-based recreational activities

Dive into fun and fitness with water-based recreational activities. From swimming to aqua aerobics, the options are endless for a healthy and enjoyable workout.

Swimming - Swimming is a fantastic full-body workout that engages all the major muscle groups. You can do laps in a pool, take a swim at the beach, or explore a natural swimming hole. Don’t dive in headfirst without knowing the depth though.

Water Aerobics - Water aerobics classes are a fun and effective way to get a low-impact workout in the water. These classes typically involve aerobic exercises, strength training, and stretching movements performed in the shallow end of a pool.

Kayaking or Canoeing - Kayaking and canoeing are great ways to explore rivers, lakes, and coastal areas while getting a good upper body workout. Paddling strengthens the arms, shoulders, and core muscles while allowing you to enjoy nature.

Stand-up paddleboarding - Stand-up paddleboarding has gained popularity in recent years as a fun and versatile water sport. It offers a full-body workout that improves balance, core stability, and upper-body strength.

Snorkeling - Stand-up paddleboarding has gained popularity in recent years as a fun and versatile water sport. It offers a full-body workout that improves balance, core stability, and upper-body strength.

Surfing - Surfing is an excellent cardiovascular and full-body workout. Paddling out to catch waves builds upper body strength while riding the surf engages your core, legs, and stabilizer muscles. Surfing also requires focus, balance, and coordination, making it a mentally stimulating activity as well.

Open water swimming - For those who enjoy swimming in natural settings, open water swimming might just be what you need. You can swim in lakes, rivers, or the ocean—whichever body of water is near you. Aside from improving your swimming skills, open-water swimming provides a great cardiovascular workout and allows you to connect with nature.

Health and water safety tips

Making a splash safely is key when it comes to water activities. When you’re in and around the water, the health and safety of yourself and those around you should be everyone’s primary goal. Take a moment to learn a few essential safety tips for yourself and others.

Learn to swim - If you’re getting in the water, it’s vital to know how to swim. If you need to, take swimming lessons (there’s no age limit!) and don’t go in the water, especially deep water, until you are confident in your ability to swim. It’s a good idea to learn CPR, too. Most places that teach swimming may also offer aquatic first-aid lessons.

Supervise children - Supervising children around water is crucial as drowning can occur silently and quickly, often without splashing or calling out for help. To ensure their safety, designate a "water watcher" who is focused solely on supervising the children without distractions like phones or socializing. Additionally, ensure that this person is sober and capable of responding in case of an emergency. It's also a good idea to establish and enforce clear pool rules, such as no running or diving in shallow areas, and to ensure that all children wear proper floatation devices if they are not strong swimmers. Vigilant supervision and adherence to safety guidelines are essential for preventing water-related accidents.

Use life jackets - Wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating, kayaking, canoeing, or participating in other water activities. This is particularly important in open water or if the conditions are rough. Make sure that young children also wear life jackets that are appropriate for their size and weight.

Check weather conditions - Speaking of rough seas, always look at the weather forecast before heading out. Look for information on storms, strong currents, riptides and undertow, or high waves. Don’t enter the water if it’s unsafe—even if it’s just ankle-deep.

Sun protection - The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number on sunscreen and some sun-protective closing corresponds to the number of minutes you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned, compared to how long it would take without any sunscreen. For example, if you would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF 30 sunscreen theoretically allows you to stay in the sun for 30 times longer (300 minutes) without burning, assuming you apply it correctly and reapply as needed. Apply sunscreen with a high SPF (30 or higher) before heading out, and reapply frequently, especially after swimming or sweating. Wear protective clothing, like a rash guard or hat, and seek shade during peak sun hours to reduce the risk of sunburn and heat-related illnesses.

Know your limits - Be aware of your swimming abilities and physical limitations. Don't push yourself beyond your comfort level or attempt activities that are beyond your skill level. If you feel tired, take a break and rest.

Avoid alcohol and drugs - Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during water activities because they can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This will only increase the risk of accidents and drowning.

Use the buddy system - Always swim or participate in water activities with a buddy or in a group. Look out for each other and be prepared to assist in case of an emergency. At the very least, let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return if no buddy is available.

Be aware of water hazards - Be mindful of potential water hazards such as strong currents, rip currents, underwater obstacles, or marine life. Familiarize yourself with local water conditions and safety guidelines before entering the water.

How to use water activities to workout

If you’re looking to add variety to your workout, then water activities are a great addition. They can provide an alternative to your regular workout to prevent boredom and help to stimulate muscle groups that your usual workouts may not.

Aquatic jogging or running - Jogging or running in the water provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout while also building strength and endurance. You can jog or run in place in the shallow end of a pool or use a flotation device to simulate running in deeper water.

Water walking or marching - Walk or march in place in the water to raise your heart rate and work your lower body muscles. Vary the intensity by walking or marching faster, adding arm movements, or walking against the resistance of a current or water jets.

Deep-water exercise - Do exercises such as leg lifts, knee tucks, or scissor kicks while floating in deep water. The buoyancy of water provides resistance, making these exercises effective for strengthening the core, legs, and hips.

Water sports - Join in water sports such as water polo, water volleyball, or water basketball for a fun and competitive workout. These activities provide a full-body workout while improving agility, coordination, and teamwork skills. They are also great ways to socialize.

Water cycling - Some fitness centers offer water cycling classes during which participants pedal stationary bikes submerged in water. Water cycling provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout that targets your legs and core muscles.

Water-based exercise is some of the best exercise you can include in your regimen. The United States has so many lakes, rivers, streams, and beaches. Explore water-based activities in your area. Embrace your inner mermaid and fall in love with something new while you improve your quality of life.

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