Health TAKE THE PLUNGE Winter may be coming, but that doesnt mean you cant exercise in water WORDS: Georgina Maric Did you know that simply standing in water has a positive impact on your body, increasing your heart and lung function? Thats just one good reason to keep on swimming in the winter months, especially if you consider it a summer activity. Before you even move in the water, you get fitness training just by standing there, says Sarah Cox, aquatic physiotherapist and committee member of the Aquatic Therapy Association of Chartered Physiotherapists. It improves heart health by increasing blood flow through your heart. Theres an increase in blood volume to your brain, too, which helps with concentration and mental health, says Cox. But thats not all. Lets take a look at the other benefits of water exercise and swimming. March on Being in water can be really beneficial for people with arthritis. The buoyancy of the water reduces the effects of gravity, continues Cox. Because your joints are not being compressed, theres more joint space while you are moving around and you get better freedom of movement. Exercising in the water means the muscles work in a slightly different way, says Cox, so you dont get as much delayed onset muscle soreness after youve done your exercise. Another benefit of water exercise is that you are working different muscles at the same time in different directions, rather than working one specific set of muscles in one direction. This is great for supporting the muscles around the joints. And if anybody is worried about falling over when doing exercise, it is very difficult to fall or break a bone in the water, says Cox. Choose your stroke If you fancy starting swimming, whats the best stroke to do? Breaststroke is not ideal for knees with arthritis because of the rotation force that occurs, says Cox. If you prefer this to other strokes, you could try to straighten your legs or use a float between your legs while doing breaststroke arms. Backstroke and front crawl are a better option because many people who do breaststroke dont always put their head in the water, which can cause neck ache and lower backache, says Cox. If you dont want to put your face in the water, you could swim backstroke and keep a pool noodle under your arms so you stay afloat. Or, you could swim the front crawl (a bit like a doggy paddle) with a pool noodle under your body. Swimming can be a great way to switch off from everyday life. Many people find it meditative and relaxing, and it can be a great social activity if you go with a friend. Whats more, your body will definitely thank you for it afterwards, so give it a go! FOR MORE INFORMATION Try your local pool for details of aqua classes. From aqua aerobics and Poolates (Pilates in the water) to aqua yoga and water pole-dancing, theres something for everyone! How to get started Start slowly, set little, achievable goals, and go for it. Remember, most pools dont mind what you wear, and, if youd prefer, there are plenty of more conservative swimsuits available these days. Try looking in M&S or John Lewis for some great styles that suit a variety of body shapes. Goggles and a swimming hat are useful, but not essential. Start by setting a time to go and make it a habit Get in the water and just march on the spot, and then increase the time you spend in the water Increase the distance you do each time, whether thats walking in the water or swimming Sign up to an aqua class so you are committed to going every week Ask a buddy to go with you you are more likely to go if theres someone who can hold you accountable Take your children or grandchildren swimming many kids have missed out on swimming lessons because of the pandemic, so its a good way to bond.