The life aquatic: getting fit with aquacize

When it comes to fitness, there is no-one-size fits all formula that works for every body—but aquacize comes close.


By Shawna Culleton

Struggling with pain or mobility issues that interfere with your fitness goals? Dip into aquacize. Aquacize, or aquatic exercise, is really just any aerobic endurance class held in deep or shallow water. Water’s buoyancy supports part of your weight and reduces the impact on your lower limbs, giving you freedom to perform movements and activities you may not be able to do on land because of arthritis, injury, or joint replacement.

Shallow and deep water classes both offer excellent workouts. The choice comes down to your personal preference and comfort, explains Alaina Demarcke, an active living instructor with the City of Winnipeg. “I always tell people to try both, because one is not necessarily better than the other, unless you have specific needs. Let’s say your hips or knees just don’t allow you to be in the shallow water, or you can’t swim, so you have to be in the shallow water. Pick the right fit for you, or mix and match.”

The City of Winnipeg’s Leisure Guide offers drop-in and registration classes at a variety of facilities. Some of these classes are highly specialized, such as Ai Chi (like tai chi, but in the water), and classes for people living with fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.

Aquacize can help you regain strength, mobility and function. It can help reduce pain, too, which is especially important to people living with arthritis, for whom even walking can be agony. “The support the water gives to your joints allows you to enjoy larger ranges of motion,” says Demarcke. Even if a joint is inflamed and painful, aquacize allows participants to achieve at least some movement to encourage the flow of synovial fluid that reduces friction between the joints.

Aquacize classes for arthritis are specifically designed with this condition in mind, and can be very helpful for maintaining and improving your functional fitness. You can transfer the movements you perform in the pool to other everyday activities, such as getting out of a tub, or into and out of a car—“movements other people might take for granted.”

Aquacize can also increase your lung capacity. Whether you choose a deep or shallow water class, as long are you keep your chest submerged, you’re making your lungs work harder than they would on land. That extra work pays off, says Demarcke. “When you have to breathe underwater, your lungs are pushing against the hydrostatic pressure of the water. It forces your diaphragm to work a little bit harder to create that full breath.” Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself huffing and puffing through your first few classes. Your body will adjust and your lung fitness will improve.

The best reason to dive into aquacize is because it’s so much fun, says Demarcke. “The instructors and music are great. You’ll find new friends. You can float along and socialize, or work out hard.” Many aquacize groups go out for meals or coffee outside of class time. In the summer, the City runs outdoor classes at a number of facilities, including St Vital Pool, but aquacize is available year-round—because, Demarcke reminds us, “The weather is always perfect indoors.”