Since the Labor Day weekend, I’ve been in Michigan, swimming and windsurfing every day. Having a chance to swim in fresh water (always better than a chlorinated pool, in my opinion) has reminded me of just how excellent water exercise can be for a variety of issues.
First, it is one of the best exercises for recovering from surgery – after you’ve been cleared by your doctor to go in the water, of course. The buoyancy of water makes it much easier to move. It can help support you when you are weak or unsteady after surgery. And because your body is partially supported, it is a gentle way to begin regaining movement and range of motion. Even if you don’t know how to swim, you can just get in the water and move. Walking or running in water is a great exercise, getting your heart working while you strengthen your lower body and core. Simply swinging arms back and forth in the water is a good way to begin strengthening arms and shoulders.
Also, water exercise is a good choice of exercise for people with lymphedema. The water acts as a slight counter pressure on the surface of the skin while you pump your muscles as you move through the water. Moving against the water provides gentle resistance to strengthen your muscles. Because I’ve been stressing my arm a bit lately, with frequent plane flights and rock climbing and windsurfing, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the water doing arm circles. I stand in water up to my neck, hold my arms out to the side and move them in little circles to the back (one of my favorite lymphedema exercises, in or out of the water). As a reminder, some very good resources for information on lymphedema are www.lymphnet.org, www.lymphedemacircleofhope.org, and the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org. The ACS also publishes very useful pamphlets and books on the subject.