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Swimming and Aqua Fitness
This is GOOD for You!
Swimming and aquatic exercise are low-impact sports that are good for your entire body. Here are the highlights:
Water resistance strengthens and tones muscles.
Exercising in water allows you to raise your heart rate without getting too heated up, so you can exercise longer.
Fatigue doesn't occur as quickly in water as during dry-land aerobic exercise.
Water buoyancy reduces a person's weight by 10 percent, reducing stress on joints, muscles and tendons.
Water's supportive cushion improves range of motion and joint flexibility.
Aquatic exercise increases circulation while reducing spasticity.
It also brightens mood and provides an opportunity to meet friends at the pool or beach.
Getting into the Water
Pool safety must be taken into account ahead of time. For wheelchair users or those with an unsteady gait, a swimming pool must have a gradual walk-in ramp, or rehabilitative equipment to provide a safe entry and exit from the water. There are various lifts for transferring a wheelchair user into the water, as well as portable or floating stairs. Some people will require a personal helper or therapist.
Call around to find a pool that has the right equipment and trained staff to meet your specific requirements. Don't assume help doesn't exist if you don't see it. Ask. For example, wheelchair lifts or portable stairs may be put away when not in use. Don't be discouraged if a facility doesn't have everything you need. More and more swimming pools are equipping to accommodate all swimmers. Keep looking until you find one. Make suggestions to pool operators which will help them adapt their facility for the whole population.
Some people whose gait is uncertain avoid swimming pools altogether because they fear losing their balance on the slippery pool deck. Ask the pool manager for floor mats. The pool may have (or will obtain) just the thing you need.
Splashing Around in the Pool
Based on your ability, strength, and endurance, you may opt to use a floatation device to provide safety and assurance while you learn new exercises or swim strokes. There are many types, sizes and colors, from swim rings to styrofoam kickboards, waist belts, head rings, inflatable collars, and life vests.
An amputee swimmer may use special swim fins instead of his/her normal prosthesis. Typically, a regular prosthesis feels heavier and more cumbersome in water.
Swimmers who are blind or otherwise visually impaired will not need adaptive equipment, but may use a beeping device which helps the swimmer locate the pool's edge, or establish a tap-stick system with pool staff or friends.
Some sporting goods stores carry in-water exercise machines to use in low-impact aquatic fitness routines or to simulate cycling, running, and kicking.
On the Beach
If you're looking for an accessible beach in your area, call your local park district, coastal association, or field house for a list of beaches, paths, and boardwalks. Many public beaches and park districts offer adaptive equipment, such as flotation devices.
Contact your state's Department of Natural Resources or the National Park Service to request additional resources. Outdoor enthusiasts might consider getting an all-terrain or beach wheelchair for frequent travel over sand, dirt, grass, or snow.
Products and Services
Access to Recreation
Aquatic Resources Network
Arthritis and the Benefits of Swimming Blog
Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation
Disabled Sports USA
National Ability Center
National Amputee Centre