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The Evolution of Aquatic Therapy & Wellness

Aquatic therapy is the fastest growing of the four major aquatic user groups.  Until recently, “the mention of aquatic therapy or aquatic wellness to the general public would often conjure up images of maybe a dozen retirees and a boombox in a 30-minute aquacizing class.  Therapy programming was often an after-thought, especially during the concept design of a new facility.  Therapy users were lucky to be afforded two lap lanes during slow periods of the day, much less their own dedicated warm body of water.

The environment and expectations for aquatic therapy are quickly changing.  Therapy pools are designed to serve a diverse array of populations which can include not only geriatric populations, but those with congenital disabilities, and those rehabilitating injuries such as replaced joints and ligaments due to the benefits of low impact resistance found in a pool.

With more traditional warmer water therapy pools, water temperatures are critical to the intended use due to the fact that body heat is absorbed 25 times faster in water than air.  A 1°F degree change in the water temperature is like a 7°F change in air temperature.  Most therapy pools are maintained between 86°F and 93°F with the following table* used as a traditional guideline for water temperatures based on activity and population that could vary as much as nearly 18°F:

 

Bather Type Temperature Range Notes
Lap Swimming 78°F to 82°F  
Resistance Training 83°F to 86°F  
Therapy & Rehabilitation 91°F to 95°F Can be as low as 30°C for certain types of therapy
Multiple Sclerosis 80°F to 84°F Warmer water can cause adverse effects
Pregnancy 78°F to 84°F  
Arthritis 84°F to 90°F Arthritis Foundation minimum and maximum
Arthritis 86°F to 90°F ATRI low function program
Fibromyalgia 86°F to 96°F ATRI
Aerobic activity 84°F to 88°F  
Older adults – vertical 83°F to 86°F Moderate to high intensity
Older adults – vertical 86°F to 88°F Low intensity
Children, fitness 83°F to 86°F  
Children’s swim lessons 82°F Varies with age and class length
Obese 80°F to 86°F  

*Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 

And no longer are therapy pools just warm water bodies of water.  Cold “polar” plunge therapy pools (water temperatures below 70°F) are becoming more common, though they remain most common for facilities with a training and recovery component.

Younger generations are also taking an active role in aquatic therapy and wellness through popular group exercise classes.  Classes for aqua spinning, high intensity cardio, aqua yoga, and stand-up paddle boarding (yes, in pools!) can be found at local community center pools and even universities.

One of the newer and more popular aquatic group class is called FloatFit which started overseas in Europe and has lately been making inroads in the U.S.  Classes utilize inflatable exercise mats from AquaPhysical that are tethered together in the pool and float on the water surface.  An instructor is often on the deck leading a group exercise class of 6-12 people.  Classes can participate in cardio activities as well as Pilates and yoga as these exercises on the AquaPhysical boards are ideal for core stabilization and strengthening.

Aquatic therapy and wellness will likely continue to be the fastest growing aquatic user group, especially as the Baby Boomer generation is transitioning into retirement.  But this user group will continue to expand beyond traditional aqua aerobics for retirees, engaging other demographics such as rehabilitating athletes or the iGen generation taking a break from their undergraduate studies to participate in new, challenging, and different forms of aquatic exercise at the campus recreation center.  The days of affording two lap lanes to this population during slow periods of the day appear over.

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