Is water aerobics good for losing weight?

Water aerobics is a popular form of exercise that involves doing various aerobic movements while immersed in water. This low-impact activity provides a good cardiovascular workout while supporting the body and reducing strain on the joints. Many people turn to water aerobics when trying to lose weight due to the calorie-burning benefits of aerobic activity combined with the resistance provided by water. But is water aerobics an effective way to shed pounds compared to other forms of exercise? There are several key factors to consider.

Calorie burn from water aerobics

One of the main draws of water aerobics for weight loss is that it’s an aerobic activity that burns a fair amount of calories. The exact number of calories burned will vary based on the intensity and duration of the workout, as well as individual factors like your weight. But on average, a 150-pound person can expect to burn around 300 calories per hour of water aerobics. Compared to around 400 calories per hour of jogging or 500 calories per hour of swimming laps, the calorie expenditure for water aerobics is moderate. Working out in chest-deep water does make the exercise harder and can increase calorie burn compared to shallower water. Using equipment like water dumbbells or noodles will also ramp up the intensity. But overall, water aerobics typically won’t burn as many calories per hour as land-based cardio like running.

Impact on fat burning

In addition to calories burned during the activity, the impact on your resting metabolic rate and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is important for fat loss. High-intensity exercise triggers greater EPOC, which is the number of calories you burn after exercise as your body recovers. This effect boosts your resting metabolism for hours after a tough workout. While water aerobics can certainly be intense at times, most water aerobics classes focus on low to moderate intensity movements. This type of workout is unlikely to spike your resting metabolic rate to the same extent as HIIT or bootcamp-style classes. So the fat-burning effects may not last as long after the session ends.

Muscle-building potential

Gaining muscle is key for long-term weight loss because muscle mass boosts your metabolism. Compared to fat tissue, muscle burns more calories at rest. Unfortunately, water aerobics is not very effective at building muscle mass due to the lack of resistance. Water provides 12-15 times more resistance than air, creating a nice strength-training effect. However, this light resistance is not enough stimulus to promote muscle growth compared to weightlifting or resistance band training. Greater muscle mass helps accelerate fat loss, so the limited potential for water aerobics to build muscle can hinder its effectiveness for weight loss over time.

Impact on motivation and consistency

Arguably the most important factor for successful weight loss is consistency. You need to stick with an exercise program long-term and maintain a calorie deficit to see results. For many people, water aerobics is an enjoyable and sustainable form of exercise they look forward to. The water provides support for the joints, allowing you to comfortably sustain aerobic activity. And the cooler water can help prevent overheating. The fun music and group atmosphere in water aerobics classes can boost motivation to show up. If water aerobics gets you moving consistently several days per week, it can certainly contribute to weight loss over time through calorie expenditure. But if the workout does not hold your interest long-term, other higher intensity exercises may provide greater calorie burn per session.

Effect on appetite and eating habits

Another key benefit of exercise for weight loss is that it helps regulate appetite hormones and reduce overeating after workouts. But research suggests that the impact water aerobics has on appetite may not be as pronounced as land-based exercise. One study found young women reported increased hunger levels after water aerobics classes compared to cycling classes. This may be because the cooler water temperatures tend to lower leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that normally signals fullness to your brain after exercise. Lower leptin after water aerobics could sabotage weight loss efforts by increasing post-workout hunger and calorie intake. Overall nutrition and portion control remain critical for losing weight with water aerobics.

Ideal duration for weight loss

When it comes to achieving weight loss, the duration of water aerobics sessions matters. For substantial calorie expenditure, experts recommend aiming for 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous water aerobics at least 5 days per week. Sessions less than 30 minutes with low intensity movements may not provide enough calorie burn to create a significant deficit. But longer 60-90 minute high intensity classes can really ramp up calorie expenditure and metabolic benefits. Interval training that alternates hard bursts of effort with recovery can also boost EPOC and overall calorie burn during water aerobics.

Best water aerobics moves for weight loss

Certain water aerobics exercises tend to burn more calories and promote weight loss results. Some great options include:

  • Jogging – Jog in place driving the knees up high.
  • Cross-country skiing – Mimic a cross-country skiing motion with exaggerated arms and legs.
  • Jump jacks – Jump legs out and in while swinging the arms overhead.
  • Scissors kick – Rapidly kick legs up and down in a scissor-like motion.
  • Basketball dribbles – Mimic dribbling a basketball at chest height with short, quick arm movements.
  • grapevine – Step side to side bringing feet together after each step.

The buoyancy of water slows down movements, so emphasizing speed and power helps increase calorie burn. Using equipment like paddles or water dumbbells also adds resistance to engage more muscles and ramp up intensity.

Ideal water depth

Water depth impacts exercise intensity and calorie burn. Shallow water around hip depth provides more resistance to boost exercise difficulty. Deep water around chest level makes movements easier but still provides moderate resistance. For the greatest calorie burn, aim for 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise in chest deep water incorporating equipment or intervals when possible. Stay shallow for exercises like jogging or jumping jacks to increase resistance. Then move to deeper water for recovery during intervals. Adjusting depth level gives you more control over workout intensity.

Benefits beyond calorie burn

Though water aerobics may not burn as many total calories per hour as other hardcore aerobic exercises, it still provides several valuable benefits:

  • Gentle on joints – Buoyancy and warmth of water prevents joint pain.
  • Works major muscle groups – Engages legs, core, arms and back to build moderate strength and fitness.
  • Increases flexibility – Water resistance improves range of motion which helps prevent injury.
  • Manages conditions like arthritis or pregnancy – Allows safe activity for special populations.
  • Fun social atmosphere – Group classes provide community and accountability.

For older adults or those with orthopedic conditions, water workouts offer safe ways to improve cardio fitness and lose weight without joint pain. The social support and enjoyment keeps people motivated to attend classes consistently. So while water aerobics may not burn the absolute most calories per hour, it can still support weight loss through regular calorie expenditure in an enjoyable and sustainable exercise routine.

Maximizing weight loss with water aerobics

Here are some tips to maximize fat burning and weight loss with water aerobics:

  • Increase session duration – Aim for 45-90 minute workouts.
  • Reduce rest periods – Keep rest between exercises under 30 seconds.
  • Use equipment – Hand paddles, noodles or dumbbells boost resistance.
  • Vary intensity – Include short intervals with high-intensity moves like jumping jacks.
  • Work in deeper water – Chest deep water makes movements more challenging.
  • Add bursts of speed – Perform exercises rapidly to increase heart rate.
  • Engage your arms – Keep arms moving to work the upper body more.
  • Monitor nutrition – Watch calorie intake and protein consumption.

With some simple tweaks, it’s possible to burn more calories and amplify results from water aerobics workouts. But maintaining a moderate calorie deficit through nutrition is key for losing weight.

Sample water aerobics weight loss workout

Here is a sample 45 minute water aerobics routine focused on maximizing calorie burn:


  • Walking or jogging – 5 minutes
  • Side steps – 30 seconds
  • Arm circles forwards & backwards – 30 seconds

Aerobic & Strength Exercises

  • Jumping jacks – 60 seconds
  • High knees jogging – 60 seconds
  • Grapevine steps with bicep curls – 60 seconds
  • Scissor kicks – 60 seconds
  • Squat-to-stand – 60 seconds
  • Lunge twist with overhead press – 60 seconds each side
  • Plank jacks – 60 seconds
  • Burpees – 60 seconds

Repeat circuit 2-3 times with 30 seconds rest between exercises.


  • Walking or easy swimming – 5 minutes
  • Side bends – 30 seconds
  • Shoulder rolls – 30 seconds

This high-intensity interval workout alternates challenging cardio moves like burpees with upper body exercises like bicep curls. Working in chest-deep water can help increase exercise difficulty. The full 45 minute duration will provide a significant caloric burn.

Supplementing with other types of exercise

For maximum weight loss results, consider supplementing your water aerobics sessions with other complementary forms of exercise two or three days a week. Options like strength training, HIIT workouts and yoga provide additional calorie burn while also building more muscle and improving flexibility. Thismixture of aerobic water activity plus metabolism-boosting strength training is the ideal exercise formula for losing weight. Just listen your body and avoid overtraining injuries.

The bottom line

Water aerobics provides a moderate calorie burn and can contribute to weight loss over time. However, the lower-impact nature does not stimulate as much muscle building or excess post-exercise calorie burn compared to intense land-based cardio and strength training. Water aerobics likely won’t produce the same pound-shedding results as a comprehensive diet and exercise program including multiple high-intensity workouts per week. But water workouts still burn hundreds of calories per hour and can be an enjoyable, low-impact option. Focusing on optimizing workout duration, intensity and nutrition habits can allow you to successfully lose weight with water aerobics. Just be prepared to progress slowly and steadily for the best results.

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