We know that physical activity is central to reduce one’s risk of developing cognitive decline. Doing exercise helps to improve overall cardiovascular health, and we know that bad cardiovascular health can lead to stroke and vascular dementia. We also know that physical activity is important at every age, both young and old.
However, older people may be a bit unsure about doing physical activity, as they might be worried about falling and injuring themselves. But what if there was a type of physical activity that decreases stress on the joints while putting the cardiovascular system under more “healthy” stress, allowing it to increase its performances? Perhaps water aerobics, or “aqua-gym”, might be the sport they are looking for!
The benefits of water aerobics have been acknowledged scientifically but not much research can be found regarding its benefits with regards to cognitive health, except from some general suggestions of adopting it as part of one’s physical activity regime for risk reduction. One 2015 study though, set out to explore what effect can water aerobics have on cognitive function in older adults.
The result of the study showed that a short period of exercise program, as short as 1 week actually, does have positive effects on cardiovascular health and cognitive function. This happens for a series of reasons:
- When underwater the body is subjected to extra pressure because of water, causing the lower body to be subjected to increased pressure, which causes blood to be redirected to the thoracic area, making the heart work harder.
- Water pressure prevents the lungs from being able to fully extend during inhalation, increasing in such way their workload by as much as 60%.
This is understandably quite challenging for the cardiovascular system and causes rapid improvements in fitness.
When it comes to cognitive performance, the results were also encouraging, although the researchers were not able to say with certainty whether this was due to the exercise having a direct effect on cognitive performance, or if physical activity had a direct effect on other physiological factors that are known to affect cognitive help (e.g. blood pressure, diabetes, etc.).
Nevertheless, water aerobics is a safe type of physical activity with virtually no contraindications. Be sure to include it in your regime!
Fedor, A., Garcia, A., Gunstad, J., (2015), The Effects of a Brief, Water-Based Exercise Intervention on Cognitive Function in Older Adults, in “Archives of Clinical Neurology”, 30, pp. 139 – 147
Pinto, S. S., et al., (2011), Cardiorespiratory and Neuromuscular Responses during Water Aerobics Exercise Performed with and without Equipment, in “Sports Med”, 32, pp. 916 – 923