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WaterWise: the effect of water on mental and physical health

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Water is our most important natural asset. After South Africa’s worst drought in decades, we are even more aware of this precious commodity – saving on garden watering, household use and definitely the topping up of pools! 

But water is more important than just a life-giving factor of human, animal and plant existence – water is one of our most important factors contributing to psychological wellbeing and physical strength. 

Did you know that just being in the presence of water – a stream, a pool, the ocean – can have a calming effect on the psyche, refreshing our thoughts, mood and brain function? Many office buildings today have green areas with running water as part of their decorative features in the reception or recreation areas. Possibly the most valuable contribution water makes to our wellbeing is the act of physical immersion. 

Water aerobics can help improve the physical and mental health of an individual, relieving stress and tension as the muscles are submerged in water. There is little to no impact on joints and muscles, and this helps mobility, stretch capability and strengthening of muscles – as well as helping to lose weight. 

How water benefits the elderly

While water activities such as swimming and aerobics assist everyone to better health, it is a particularly relevant medium for elderly people – particularly in warm water which loosens the muscles and comforts the joints. Sometimes it’s good to get into a little hot water! Here’s what you need to keep in mind: 

  • Water’s greatest benefit is that it provides both support and resistance, and in this way, increases muscle strength and flexibility while building endurance.
  • Water offers the opportunity for ‘low impact’ exercise – in other words reduces the impact on joints – which is particularly appealing to those with joint conditions such as arthritis or those currently undergoing physical rehabilitation. In fact, water-based exercises have been shown to be the leading form of effective therapy for those suffering from joint problems.
  • While burning calories at any time is good, water exercises are an effective solution for older people who can’t get out and run, hike and play sport as they used to.
  • In addition, water assists with improving circulation, decreasing blood pressure and in the long run, decreasing the heart rate. And anytime you perform sustained exercise lasting longer than 10 minutes, you’re engaging your cardiovascular system in a manner that can improve heart health.  
  • Common chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, high cholesterol and arterial diseases can be improved by regular aerobic water exercises.
  • Water-based exercise can assist to maintain the bone health of post-menopausal women. Regular long-term aquatic exercises are beneficial for inflammatory conditions as well as knee, hip and shoulder osteoarthritis.
  • Watching water in motion can be one of the most soothing activities to alleviate stress. Aquatic exercise can help to decrease anxiety and negative mood states - particularly in women. Warm water therapy can significantly decrease depression and improve moods. The rhythmic breathing associated with swimming causes a meditative state that is similar to the effects of yoga.
  • Water-based exercise can increase longevity through greater physical fitness. Swimming improves flexibility, muscle tone, muscular balance and endurance. A consistent swimming regime helps the heart muscle to become stronger and aids in the ability to maintain appropriate weight.
  • The buoyancy factor of water allows an individual to engage in exercises that they may find difficult otherwise. This is particularly helpful to older people who are not as agile as they used to be. In water, they can find themselves doing all sorts of challenging moves that would have stumped them on land. Not only that, but they can do these exercises for a longer period of time, adding more benefit while less stress on joints and muscles. 

The Helderberg Society for the Aged 

The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. We offer a safe, comfortable environment that is designed to enrich and improve lives – and many activities for both mental and physical improvement. Connective, supportive, nurturing. We believe life should be lived to the fullest for all the people within our services which encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care. 

Find out more about us: www.hsfa.org.za

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Guest Wednesday, 20 September 2017

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