Older women often have age-related conditions that not only limit their ability to exercise but also may increase the risk of falls. Fear, then, is an important factor to be considered when recommending ways to improve conditioning. An international team of researchers found that a water-based exercise program, boosted by the S.W.E.A.T. method, helped women over the age of 60 to improve their functional activities of daily living as well as their static balance. “Aging is associated with a gradual decrease in muscle mass, strength and power,” wrote the authors in their study, published last month in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. “Water exercise may help to decrease immobility, while increasing power for functional skills.”

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living (ADLs) — simple things like the ability to shop for food, prepare a meal, and maintain personal hygiene — allow us to remain independent adults and lend us a sense of well-being. Maintaining function in the area of ADL, then, is what many elderly Americans fight for most. To study a program that might help older women keep up their ADL skills, researchers began by recruiting 66 volunteers between the ages of 60 and 89, each suffering with one or another chronic or age-related health condition. Next, the researchers tested each participant for flexibility, balance, and general physical condition. One such assessment was the sit-to-stand, which began with each participant seated in a chair with back straight, feet flat on the floor, and arms crossed and held against the chest. Next, she rose to a full standing position and then sat back down, as quickly as possible. The researchers recorded the number of times a participant completed a sit-to-stand, which determines lower body muscular strength and endurance, within 30 seconds.

After completing an initial physical assessment, participants attended 16 weeks of water-based exercise sessions incorporating the S.W.E.A.T. method. This acronym is based on the cues that guide participants toward a greater awareness of how water helps them incorporate buoyancy and drag resistance in their interval-based training program. Each variable, when properly applied, changes how the properties of water are engaged against the body, and altogether this boosts the exercise program’s ability to improve their physical condition. The not-perfectly-precise acronym is as follows:

S. change Surface area and Speed

W. Change impact by using the Working positions of rebound (jumping), neutral (chest submerged, feet touch lightly), suspended (buoyant work performed without feet touching bottom), and extended (standing tall, feet grounded on the bottom)

E. Enlarge the movement (Extend to fuller range of motion)

A. Work Around the body or joint by changing planes (sagital, transverse, and multiplaner)

T. Travel through water forward, backward, and on diagonal

Upon completion of the program, participants repeated the flexibility, balance, and conditioning tests and the researchers compared the results to their original scores. What did they find?

The group of participants, when compared to a control group, improved all functional ADL assessments. In particular, they made impressive gains in flexibility (eight percent), sit-to-stand endurance (31 percent), walking speed (16 percent), stride length (10 percent), agility (20 percent), stair climb (22 percent), arm curl (39 percent), and, best of all, static balance (42 to 48 percent). Oddly, no significant changes occurred in the area of dynamic balance.

“This shallow water program provided a well-rounded, safe and effective activity for women to improve functional ADL on land,” the authors wrote. When it comes to exercise, safe, more than sweat, is music to any older woman's ears.

Source: Sanders ME, Takeshima N, Rogers ME, Colado JC, Borreani S. Impact of the S.W.E.A.T. Water-Exercise Method on Activities of Daily Living for Older Women. J Sports Sci Med. 2013.