Most often, whether an aquatics class is labeled for seniors or not, those are the members who attend. Aqua fitness classes have the ability to not only provide seniors with the added support they need to continue exercising, but also a sense of community.
“Fitness in the pool is quite different than on land,” said Joy McIntyre, the fitness director at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey. “It is for everyone, but a certain group will gravitate toward aquatics because of the benefits, safety and medicinal type of effects on joints water has. Ninety percent are seniors or baby boomers who are getting in because of those chronic ailments that are starting to bother them.”
To accommodate these members, the Birnbaum JCC offers classes such as water wellness, Latin aqua fit, aqua Zumba, water yoga, and shallow and deep aqua fit. “The classes we offer daily have a different focus to work the body differently, and the instructors are very knowledgeable about chronic ailments and things they have to look out for in their people,” said McIntyre. “Our classes are anywhere between 20 and 30 women, and a couple of men.”
In these specialized aquatics classes, the importance of a knowledgeable and caring instructor should not be overlooked. Oftentimes, it can make or break the member experience. McIntyre has found her members gravitate toward one instructor predominantly because she tends to be peppy and sympathetic.
“She will stay before and after class to talk, she really gets to know the person’s ailments, and she’s funny,” said McIntyre. “She might come in early to show somebody how to do a certain movement they’re having problems with, or if they have a question, she provides an alternative move that will give the same benefit. She goes above and beyond.”
The YMCA of Greater Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio, offers SilverSplash, an aqua class from SilverSneakers, in the warm water pool, kept between 82 and 87 degrees, to help with quality of life and daily function. By offering these classes in the warm pool, seniors are given a space away from lap swimmers and kids, allowing them to work on their movements at a slower pace if necessary.
“It’s about increasing range of motion,” said Loni Beverly, the association active older adult director at the Cleveland Y. “That’s the benefit of being in the water and being able to open up those joints.”
At the Westport Weston Family YMCA in Westport, Connecticut, seniors are offered a couple of different aquatics programs, such as arthritis aqua fitness and senior aqua fitness, also in the warm water pool. “The arthritis class is designed to work on smaller movements you would not typically work on in a traditional aqua fitness class,” said Jennifer McDonald, the aquatics director at the Westport Y. “The class consists of specially designed exercises, which can help improve joint flexibility, and relieve pain and stiffness.”
Because you want to offer programming for all ages and abilities, and your members all have different needs, specialized classes will help different demographics feel represented and safe within the classes they choose. “These senior classes give members a safe environment to move, work and exercise their bodies and minds,” elaborated McDonald.
A safe environment to move is one of the top priorities for senior members taking your aqua fitness classes. Water has the ability to open up a world of exercise options for those who would otherwise be completely limited on land. This is why it is also important to invest in accommodating features that will help them enter your pools.
At the Cleveland Y, pools are equipped with the zero-entry feature and pool lifts to help members get in and out of the water safely. Beverly emphasized the need to help this demographic when it comes to aqua fitness because it not only benefits them physically, but mentally as well.
“I say group fitness is group therapy for the body,” said Beverly. “When these folks get in the water, they make friends, they start to talk, and they may not see anybody except when they’re in class. Through these social situations, they become a small family.”
To best serve this demographic in your facility, it’s essential to provide the programming they want, and for seniors, that’s aquatics classes. Whether you label the classes accordingly or not, start by giving them the ability and space to help themselves and each other.
“That’s what the active older adults department is dedicated to at the Y,” said Beverly. “Here’s an underserved population we want to provide programming for that allows them to build connections with other folks.”