OBJECTIVES: Increasing physical activity is a priority worldwide, including for older adults who may have difficulty performing traditional forms of exercise, and for whom retention of muscle mass is an important consideration. Water-based exercise may provide an alternative if benefits are comparable. We compared the impact on body composition of 24-week water- versus land-walking interventions in healthy but inactive older adults.
DESIGN: Randomised, controlled trial.
METHODS: 72 participants (62.5±6.8yr) were randomised to a land-walking (LW), water-walking (WW) or control (C) group in a supervised centre-based program. The exercise groups trained 3 times/week at matched intensity (%HRR), increasing from 40-45% to 55-65% heart rate reserve (HRR). Height, weight, body mass index (BMI), waist and hip girths were recorded; dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) provided fat and lean tissue masses. Participants were re-assessed 24 weeks after completion of the intervention.
RESULTS: There were no significant changes in body mass or BMI following either exercise protocol, however central adiposity was reduced in both exercise groups, and the WW group increased lower limb lean mass. These benefits did not persist over the follow-up period.
CONCLUSIONS: Exercise can confer beneficial effects on body composition which are not evident when examining weight or BMI. Both WW and LW improved body composition. Water walking can be recommended as an exercise strategy for this age group due to its beneficial effects on body composition which are similar to, or exceed, those associated with land-walking. For benefits to persist, it appears that exercise needs to be maintained.