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Water- versus land-based exercise in elderly subjects: effects on physical performance and body composition

Authors Bergamin M, Ermolao A, Tolomio S, Berton L, Sergi G, Zaccaria M

Published Date August 2013 Volume 2013:8 Pages 1109—1117

DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S44198

Received 19 February 2013, Accepted 17 May 2013, Published 27 August 2013

Marco Bergamin,1 Andrea Ermolao,1 Silvia Tolomio,1 Linda Berton,2 Giuseppe Sergi,2 Marco Zaccaria1

1Sports Medicine Division, 2Geriatrics Division, University of Padova, Padua, Italy

Abstract: The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a 24-week exercise protocol carried out in geothermal spring water to improve overall physical function and muscle mass in a group of healthy elderly subjects. A further aim was to compare this water-based protocol with a land-based protocol and a control group. For this purpose, 59 subjects were recruited and randomly allocated to three groups: aquatic group (AG), land group (LG), and control group (CG). AG and LG followed a 6-month, twice-weekly, multimodality exercise intervention. AG underwent the protocol in hot-spring water (36°C) while LG did it in a land-based environment. After the intervention, knee-extension strength was maintained in AG and LG. The 8-foot up-and-go test showed a reduction in both exercise groups (AG −19.3%, P < 0.05; LG −12.6%, P < 0.05), with a significantly greater decrease in AG. The back-scratch test revealed an improvement only in AG (25.8%; P < 0.05), while the sit-and-reach test improved in all groups. Finally, AG reduced fat mass by 4% (P < 0.05), and dominant forearm fat decreased by 9.2% (P < 0.05). In addition, calf muscle density increased by 1.8% (P < 0.05). In summary, both water- and land-based activities were beneficial in maintaining strength and in improving lower-body flexibility. Aquatic exercise appeared a better activity to improve dynamic balance. Thermal swimming pools and the use of rating of perceived exertion as a method of exercise monitoring should be considered potentially useful tools to enhance physical performance and body composition in healthy elderly.

Keywords: aging, multimodality exercise, performance, muscle mass

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