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High-Intensity Underwater Workouts Improve Arthritis, Study Finds

Utah State University
High-intensity aquatic exercise alleviates arthritic pain in subjects.

A group of researchers at Utah State University are using groundbreaking equipment to observe the influence high-intensity exercise has on symptoms of severe arthritis.

The researchers were able to create an aquatic environment for high-intensity exercising by using an underwater treadmill and currents. Eadric Bressel, a researcher on the project, said the level of workout intensity achieved in the study could not be reached with calisthenics or other movement in the water.

Previous research shows the positive effect aquatic exercise has on the treatment of joint and muscle pain, but Bressel said achieving a high-intensity workout is vital for the subjects.  

“To exercise at a high-intensity is a good thing because there are certain… hormones that are released when you get above a certain intensity that you don’t get if you just walk around at a low intensity, and those are important for achieving optimal health,” Bressel said.

The subjects of the study were unable to perform high or even low-intensity exercises outside of the pool, according to Bressel. The study documented progress with balance, pain levels and strength, which all showed improvement.

“If someone who has arthritis is going to do something at a high intensity, you would think that maybe it would exacerbate the pain, but we actually observed pain relief as a result of this protocol,” Bressel said.

Though findings of the study show the benefits of high-intensity physical exertion, the specialty equipment used for the research is difficult to access for those hoping to pursue therapy. Bressel said the research group is consulting with makers of the specialty pools and equipment to look at portable pool options to make this therapy more accessible.

Bressel said this project will lead to more research in the areas of aquatic exercise for arthritis patients as well as other studies documenting cognitive performance changes with high-intensity aquatic exercise.