Health & Family

It's not just Grandma's workout…

If you think water aerobics is just for Grandma, you haven't been to the pool lately.

On a recent Thursday, folks as young as 23 are breathing hard in the water at the Dowd YMCA – getting just as tough a workout as the people running treadmills upstairs.

Water aerobics has been popular at least since the 1980s, when the Arthritis Foundation and YMCA developed an aquatic program to ease achy joints.

Since then, water workouts have evolved to suit a range of fitness levels – from the Y's “Golden Splash” beginner classes to “Turbo Fitness” if you want high intensity.

Thursday's “Deep Water” class is doing moves that look like mountain-climbing, cross-country skiing and more.

“Jumping jacks backward – let's push!” instructor Allison Lilly shouts, like a coach revving her team for a big game. “If you can say a whole sentence, you should probably work a little harder.”

The 15 women and two men bob vigorously in water 9-feet deep. Most wear float belts and webbed gloves for extra resistance.

In the two years since Lilly began teaching water fitness, she's seen more younger people signing up. Some come because they're injured or pregnant – and stay because they love the workout. Others just hear rave reviews from friends.

Thursday's class has students in their 20s through 80s.

“It works out all the little stuff that weight training doesn't quite get,” says Andy McIntyre, 23.

“It's one of the hardest ab workouts I've ever had,” says Julie Russo, 38.

“It works everything,” instructor Lilly, 43, says. The resistance of the water builds muscle strength and endurance, while working both the upper and lower body.

UNC Charlotte gerontologist Rachel Seymour agrees.

But because water aerobics isn't weight-bearing exercise, which women need to guard against osteoporosis, she recommends combining it with walking or another exercise where you support your own weight.