If you have arthritis, you probably already know that walking and swimming both are great exercise options for you. They allow you to get your heart rate up while going easy on your joints and keeping pain at bay. But did you know that you actually can combine both pursuits for a different kind of workout?

Water walking, which started more than two decades ago, has really caught on in popularity. Many pools offer classes in water walking, but it's also something you can do yourself. "Water walking is very simple," says John Spannuth, the president and CEO of the United States Water Fitness Association in Boynton Beach, Florida. "You're just walking in chest-deep to neck-deep water and moving your arms and legs."

But why choose to water walk over, let's say, traditional walking or swimming laps? For one thing, water walking uses a variety of muscles. You can walk forwards, backwards, or sideways. Also, Spannuth says, "It's easy to do, you don't get your face wet, and you don't need to know how to swim." For arthritis sufferers, the lack of impact is an obvious boon. If you find regular walking painful at times, chances are good that you'll be comfortable water walking. According to Spannuth, even some people who are wheelchair bound can get do water-walking workouts.

How can you make sure you get a good walking workout when heading for the pool?

  • Engage your whole foot. Step forward, putting your heel down first, then the ball of your foot. (Walk ball to heel when moving backwards.) Tighten your core muscles so you don't strain your back.
  • Add intensity. Lift your knees high as you walk. Or strap on a flotation belt and head for the deep end of the pool to do some deep-water running.
  • Try intervals. Just as you might with land-based sports, you can use interval training to boost your cardiovascular fitness. Pump your arms and legs quickly as you move through the water, then alternate with slower walking. Go back and forth between fast and slow.
  • Cool down. If you've been walking at an intense pace, take it down at the end and finish off with some simple stretches.


Sources: John Spannuth, United States Water Fitness Association, www.uswfa.com

Canadian Aquafitness Leaders Alliance Inc., www.calainc.org