The Benefits of Water Exercise for Your Heart

heart rate Water exercise has many benefits, some of which were highlighted in my last Blog post. In this post I would like to focus on the benefits for your heart.

Your heart is a muscle, the most important muscle in your body. It beats 24 hours a day, 7 days a weak. Inactivity will cripple your heart! A normal resting heart rate ranges from 60-80 beats per minute. If you want to make your heart stronger, then you need to make it beat faster, which means you need to do aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise brings the resting heart rate down. If you can lower your resting heart rate by as little as 10 beats per minute, you will be saving your heart approximately 14,400 beats in a 24-hour period.

Any aerobic exercise done on land or in the water can lower the resting heart rate. But exercising in the water has additional benefits for the heart. Just getting in the pool lowers blood pressure for most people. Blood pressure decreases because immersion relaxes the blood vessels so that they can carry more blood while presenting less resistance to the heart, which is pumping that blood. Decreased blood pressure lingers for a while after you get out of the pool. With regular aquatic exercise, the vessels themselves become more pliant and supple.

This occurs not only with healthy individuals. People with metabolic syndrome, who have a combination of cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, also tend to have stiffer blood vessels. The blood vessels become less effective in contracting and relaxing over time. In a study of 12 individuals with metabolic syndrome who participated in a deep-water exercise training program one hour a day, 3 days a week, blood vessel health improved in just 8 weeks. Obese individuals will often be more comfortable exercising in water because the buoyancy of the water supports their weight, and therefore they are more likely to continue with the program.

Blood pressure increases gradually and progressively with increasing age, resulting in a high prevalence of hypertension among older adults. Hypertension affects 3 out of 4 Americans over the age of 65. Hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. It is well known that land-based aerobic exercise can reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension. A recent study confirmed that swimming at a mild to moderate intensity 3 times a week produced a clinically meaningful reduction in blood pressure in 2-3 months. This is because repeated workouts in the pool reduces stiffening of the blood vessels which is a primary factor that causes blood pressure to increase with age.

The hydrostatic pressure of the water pushes blood out to the extremities, and in combination with more supple blood vessels, stroke volume and cardiac output increases. This means that the heart becomes more efficient, pumping more blood with each stroke. Blood flow to the muscles during water exercise can increase an amazing 250%. Blood flow to the brain also increases, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. With this kind of blood flow, heart rate is lowered. Target heart rates while exercising in shallow water average about 7 beats per minute lower than the same intensity exercise on land. Target heart rates in deep water, where more of the body experiences the hydrostatic pressure of the water, average about 17 beats per minute lower than the same intensity exercise on land. The exact number of beats per minute depends on many factors, including the fitness level of the individual.

If you have chest pains while working out in the pool you need to stay in the water because the heart rate will go up when you exit the pool. Instead, alert the lifeguard so that he or she can assist you and initiate the emergency action plan if necessary.

Working out in the water has many benefits. The benefits for the heart include making the heart stronger, decreasing the resting heart rate, making blood vessels more supple, reducing blood pressure, and increasing stroke volume. If you would like to see summaries of the research on the benefits of water exercise on the heart or on any of the other benefits of immersion and water exercise, go to

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *