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Lifestyle: Making a Splash for Mental Health

Mel Morony is a Group Fitness Instructor at a number of recreation centres in Eastern Melbourne, including Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre, where she teaches both water and land classes. She is passionate about the importance of physical activity to both the physical and mental health of everybody. A travel and language enthusiast, she regularly makes use of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) in her classes thereby increasing their accessibility.

‘That was so much fun!’... ‘I always feel so good after class.’ These are just a couple of the comments that people have made to me after participating in the Aquatic Fitness programs on offer at Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre. Since the pandemic lockdowns ended aquatic fitness programs have had an incredible increase in popularity. One of the comments that people often say about participating in Aquatic Fitness is that they feel ‘free’.

Due to the supportive nature of water, moves that involve flexibility and balance such as karate kicks or even some standing Yoga moves, which may be almost impossible for some people to do on land, become attainable. In addition, the low impact nature of water makes it an attractive environment for people who want to limit the effect of lower body exercises such as squats, lunges and running on their joints while still getting the benefits to the muscles. By performing comparable moves such as tuck jumps and cross-country skis in water, the impact on the joints is reduced making it a lot more doable and enjoyable for people who may be carrying lower body injuries or wish to recover from other forms of exercise (such as weight training or even marathon running) while maintaining their fitness levels.

One of the great fears for people, especially when they are beginning an exercise program, is the thought of being watched and/or judged by more experienced exercisers – whether that is because they are struggling with the bio-mechanics of an exercise or because they are uncertain on how to use a machine in the gym. This isn’t such an issue in the water as it distorts what can be seen. This means that feelings of embarrassment when someone isn’t ‘getting it’ with a move, tend to be mitigated. I often say to people that I can’t see them clearly in the water and the lifeguards are really only watching to make sure that they aren’t on the bottom of the pool so they can move like no one is watching, because no one is watching that closely.

The importance of exercise to prevent/reduce the effects of heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and other physical health issues has been documented for a number of years and more recently a correlation between exercise and mental health has been proven (though anecdotal evidence of a correlation has existed for centuries). Aquatic Fitness programs provide an opportunity for people who are injured, struggling with balance and flexibility, or who simply enjoy working out to get that exercise when they might not be able to - or want to - participate in land- based exercise.

Moreover, as mentioned in the introduction, the comments and feedback from participants state that it is fun. It stands to reason that people are more likely to continue with something if they are having fun while they are doing it. When people are in the moment singing – and maybe dancing - along to the music, while moving in ways that they would perhaps never be able to do on land and feeling a sense of achievement then it stands to reason that someone would say at the end of a class, ‘That was so much fun, I’m going to book in for the next one now!’

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