Water aerobics heals, strengthens, and soothes

Water fitness classes are held at the Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: David Paula/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

Water fitness classes are held at the Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: David Paula/University of Miami

Water aerobics heals, strengthens, and soothes

By Barbara Gutierrez
Aqua exercises can prevent and mend injuries and help you to remain healthy in body and mind, according to a specialist at the Miller School of Medicine.

Our first environment was liquid.

It is therefore not a surprise that when we are in the water, we feel calm and often relaxed.

“There is a restorative feeling when we are in the water,” said Dr. Clara Milikowski, an associate professor of clinical pathology with the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, who teaches water fitness twice a week at the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables Campus. “The exercises can heal injuries and prevent injuries. Anyone can participate in the class no matter what age or ability.”

One early morning at the Herbert Wellness Center pool, 10 students ranging in ages from 20 to 80 years old, waded into Milikowski’s class. Their routine included physical conditioning in the water that combined stretching, aerobic movements, and the tightening of different muscles. She emphasizes maintaining proper posture during the session, which helps align the body.

In the second part of the one-hour class, the students worked with weights on their arms and legs while in the water, which helped to strengthen those areas, core muscles, and balance. Toward the end of the session, the participants smoothly wrapped their arms around their own necks and moved their necks side to side to ease those muscles.

“I worked muscles that I did not know I had,” said Samuel Carter, a junior at the University of Miami who was taking the water aerobics class for the first time. He had to get up very early to make the 6:30 a.m. session, but he felt so good afterward that he vowed to return. “I really enjoyed it.”

Exercising in water can be extremely beneficial for the entire body: whether it is swimming laps in a pool or a body of water or engaging in aerobic exercises to gain strength and flexibility, noted Milikowski. And she pointed out that participants don’t have to know how to swim to participate in water aerobics because the classes are held in the shallow end of the pool.

Since the water provides buoyancy and support, it has less impact to the back and joints, she explained. Therefore, people with muscle or skeletal injuries or arthritis can participate in water exercises. People with back injuries can benefit from just walking in the water, she said. Milikowski calls her classes “therapeutic” because she runs her students through a methodical workout of all their muscles.

For Lenny del Granado, a retired secretary from the Department of History, the aerobic water classes have been a lifesaver. She has been doing the exercises since the late 1990s, and she credits the exercises for keeping her pain free.

“I had problems with my shoulder because of pain in my rotator cuff, and I also have stenosis in my back,” she said. “The exercises have helped me so much that I have avoided an operation. I didn’t even need physical therapy.”  

One bonus of the workout, like most exercises, is the boost to one’s mood. Sharon Smith, a retired professor of biological oceanography from the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, has been doing water exercises for more than 20 years.

“My muscles feel great, my brain feels great, and I feel great in general,” said Smith. She had been a competitive swimmer as a young child, so she tried swimming but then settled on water aerobics.

“I had a phase in my life where I had two major cancer surgeries and chemo in a three-year period, and when I got through that I needed to do something,” she said. The exercises provide her with energy, improve her mood, and gives her an overall sense of wellness, she pointed out.

“All those endorphins work through your body,” Smith said. “When you wake up, you are sluggish and sad. And after this workout, you have a whole different day.”