Fit in my 40s: aqua aerobics is back – underestimate it at your peril
Aqua aerobics has been a Covid casualty, but before it was affected by the pandemic, it had already been the victim of fitness fashion, which takes no prisoners. It was wildly popular when I was young, because it seemed to answer the conundrum “I ought to go swimming, but it is so boring”. Its benefits as low-impact exercise were amplified, because in those days everyone was obsessed with what might happen to their knees if they went running (maybe underdeveloped trainer technology was to blame).
Inexorably, “low-impact” segued into “good for older people”, which then became “not very challenging”, and people stopped doing it, or, if they didn’t stop doing it, they certainly stopped talking about it.
I cannot begin to explain how nuts this is: first, just because older people can do it doesn’t mean it’s not hard, which you’ll know if you’ve ever accidentally stayed in a Canadian hotel while there’s an Ironman tournament in town. Second, anything you do is harder in the water than out of it, due to a combination of the physical and the mental. Water resistance is a weights regime on its own. Unfamiliarity (doing things at which you’re not adept) is often key to unlocking your reserves of effort: there’s fancy sports psychology jargon for this, but essentially, when you’re concentrating, you forget to be tired. Third, I was the oldest person in this class and, as you can see, I’m not old at all.
The moves won’t be completely familiar from regular aerobics: for instance, there’s a shallow-jumping-jack-into-cross-country-ski move that is a really complicated way of saying: do a shallow squat and then cross over into a lunge. We didn’t have to hold the poses, it was a strengthening-cardio move; on land, if you were going from a squat to a lunge, you’d want to remain in each position for a while to make it a resistance exercise. It’s also an object lesson in the psychology point, because it didn’t bother me that much at the time, but my thighs burned like hell the next day.
Two other great friends in the water: the swim noodle and gravity with the edge taken off. Imagine you’re out of your depth, held up with a noodle tucked around your back and under your arms. A huge number of moves (holding your feet together and squeezing your legs in and out like a frog, for instance) can now be tried at a graduating level of difficulty. You can balance yourself entirely on the noodle and make it just about your legs and glutes, or you can move your arms in and out to make it a full-body resistance exercise.
All things being equal – if you don’t have a particular need to protect your joints and you’re equally happy in a class or doing solo exercise – then whether or not aqua aerobics is for you depends on how much you like getting wet. I forgot to mention that I absolutely hate it. So let’s just say this is deceptively effective, quite engrossing and worthwhile, and I probably won’t do it again.
What I learned
One of the great benefits is that it’s hard to overheat in the water, which maintains your effort level. Being too hot is nature’s way of telling you to stop trying so hard.