Water-based exercise helps manage chronic conditions

High-intensity interval training in water can benefit people with a range of chronic conditions, including those who may be unable to take part in this form of this exercise out of water, researchers report today.

Dr Heidi Bunæs-Næss of Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway, and colleagues say in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) “has been considered to have superior health benefits compared with moderate-intensity exercise”.

Although this applies to healthy people and those with chronic conditions, “there are many differences in the physiology and biomechanics of exercise in water,” which may indicate it is more suitable for certain groups.

Previous work has led to conflicting findings, so the team set out to investigate further by analysing 18 research studies on exercise for adults with chronic conditions. This included 868 participants with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic or neurological conditions. Participants adhered to the Aquatic HIIT exercise plans well, and showed a beneficial effect compared with not exercising, though this result was not statistically significant.

The authors report that it appeared to improve exercise capacity and adherence, writing: “Aquatic HIIT has similar effects on exercise capacity as land based HIIT and may represent an alternative for people unable to perform land based HIIT.”

“This gives people with chronic conditions another choice for effective HIIT or potentially a more successful environment to start and continue with high-intensity training,” they add, because the natural support and buoyancy of water “may facilitate this effectiveness.”

Bunæs-Næss, H. et al. Aquatic high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may be similarly effective to land based HIIT in improving exercise capacity in people with chronic conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 15 November 2023; doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2023-001639


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