During these hot August days, you probably don't need a lot of convincing that taking a dip in some refreshing water is a good plan. You probably already know that swimming is a great aerobic exercise — with a long history of proven health benefits for people with heart disease, arthritis and other medical conditions.
New research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that 24 weeks of pool exercise has marked health benefits for women after menopause. Women assigned to pool exercise experienced a 15 percent drop in body fat and an 8 percent drop in blood pressure.
And you know how hard it is to get those abdominal muscles tight — right? Well, women doing the pool exercises found they could do 28 percent more abdominal crunches. So get over your dread of the swimsuit, and use it to help you trim your middle.
TESTING THE WATERS
Before starting any new exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor. Even if you're a good swimmer, you should have someone else with you in case you might slip or fall.
Simply floating in the pool is refreshing, but won't give you an aerobic workout. Laps are great, but if your pools isn't long enough for laps, there are plenty of other ways to get fit in the water:
• Hold onto the side of the pool in water that's shallow enough for you to comfortably stand. Do several repetitions of raising each leg in front of your body, to the side and behind.
• Practice squatting. Every few days, try to achieve a deeper squat and hold the squatting position longer.
• Move to deeper water where you can stand with your shoulder under water. Do several repetitions of raising each arm in front of your body, to the side and behind your body. Practice slowly moving your chin down and then to each shoulder and then lowering your ear toward each shoulder. As you get more comfortable, increase your movements and the number of repetitions.
• Walk in the pool. You can start in shallower water. If you're a good swimmer and are comfortable in the water, try moving into deeper water and adding arm movements for a pool power walk.
• Swim laps. Alternating strokes can help reduce fatigue and make sure you're exercising a range of muscles. Start out resting between laps. Increase the number of laps between rest periods every three to five days as you feel more comfortable.
• Try alternating swimming laps and walking laps across the shallower end of the pool. You can move into deeper water as your stamina improves.
• Try walking or slowly jogging in place. This will be easier than on land because of the support you get from the water's buoyancy. Start with a slow walk and increase the pace as you get more comfortable. As you get more comfortable, move to deeper water and lift those knees higher with each step.
ADD A WORKOUT BUDDY
If you need still more incentive to get in the water, how about bringing your dog into the pool, too? (A free dogs-only swim session is being offered today in St. Petersburg. Details, Page 21.) If you have a water-loving dog, make sure you take steps to swim safely with your pooch:
1. Don't let your dog swim alone.
2. Dogs can't get out of the steep sides of a swimming pool — even in the shallow end. Train your dog to find the exit steps. This took several weeks for my Wheaten terriers, who naturally swam to the nearest side of the pool initially and, had I not been there to redirect them, likely would have drowned trying to get out. Start by placing your dog in the water near the steps and calling him to the steps as you go there, too. As Fido gets more comfortable finding the steps, move farther and farther away from the steps.
3. Monitor everyone in the pool at the same time — dogs and people — to make sure no one gets trapped under a bigger body, raft, etc.
4. Let your dog get out for frequent breaks. Swimming is great exercise, but tiring and, unlike you who can stand up and rest, your dog will need to keep swimming the entire time unless he's in very shallow water.
5. Make sure your dog gets plenty to drink when swimming. Have a freshwater dish handy outside of the pool for Fluffy and water bottles for you to maintain good hydration while exercising in the heat.
Dawn A. Marcus, M.D, is a board- certified neurologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and author of "Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health." You can read her blog and buy her book at her Web site: www.fitasfido.com.