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Water Based Exercise

Water-based exercises cover a range of activities including swimming, water aerobics, and walking or running in water.

Aquatic exercise is beneficial for people of all ages and skill levels, since intensity can be gentle or very intense depending on your movements in the water.


Is it Safe?

If you are on radiation therapy, make sure you have your doctor’s okay to start exercising in a swimming pool. The chlorine in a swimming pool may irritate the skin over the treatment area. If you have no skin reactions during your treatment, it is safe to swim in a chlorinated pool. Just be sure to rinse off the chlorine after getting out of the pool [i] [iii].

Chemotherapy affects the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Swimming pools and other bodies of water may contain germs that the typical person would be able to fight off.  If you are undergoing chemotherapy, however, you might be more prone to contracting an infection. Again, check with your doctor before dipping into the pool.


Properties of Water

Water is buoyant, meaning you can easily stay afloat due to the upward force on your body. Since you can become “unweighted” in the water, less stress gets put on your joints. Water-based exercise is therefore very commonly used in physical therapy and other rehabilitation settings, and it may be helpful for relieving some of the aches and pains associated with various cancer therapies.

Viscosity is a measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. Think about being in a swimming pool and trying to walk. Not so easy. Moving through water is more difficult than moving through air.  So, simply walking in water can help strengthen muscles [ii]. 


Gear Up

Special water gear such as water weights, foam noodles and rings, and kickboards can add further resistance to increase the intensity of your aquatic workout.

Check your local gyms and recreation centers for group aquatic exercise classes. Exercising in a group may increase motivation to keep working out.

If you are swimming in an outdoor pool, be sure to use plenty of sunscreen and do not stay out in the sun for too long. Hats and sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement, folks. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! While you may not sweat while you are in the water, your body is still working hard and you need to replenish with a tall drink of water. Put a straw and a mini umbrella in your cup if you must.


Swim for a cause

Invite your friends and family to swim for a cause. Swim Across America, Inc. is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events. Events can range from short spurts to longer endurance swims.

Be sure to speak with your physician and healthcare team before starting any new exercise regimen or making changes to your current routine.


[i] Exercise During and After Radiation Therapy. Breastcancer.org website. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/exercise/treatment/radiation Last modified January 26, 2014.
[ii] Hass D. Benefits of Water-based Exercise. Bone, Muscle & Joint Team of the Cleveland Clinic. October 30, 2012. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/10/benefits-of-water-based-exercise/
[iii] Radiation Therapy to the Breast or Chest Wall. Patient and Caregiver Education. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Website. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/radiation-therapy-breast-chest-wall
Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN

Stephanie Forsythe MS, RDN, CNSC, CDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works as a Clinical Dietitian and Nutrition Coordinator at a hospital in Brooklyn. She helps patients meet their nutritional needs during their stay in the intensive care units. Aside from developing recipe and blog content for Savor Health, Stephanie also has worked as pastry cook in California and New York City. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College Columbia University. She completed a Dietetic Internship and training through Teachers College.

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