BACKGROUND: Water-based exercise is an effective training mode for improving strength, physical function, and balance in older adults. It can also serve as an alternative to land-based exercise for those requiring non-weight-bearing activities to manage joint pain and chronic disease symptoms. Despite these benefits, older adults are less likely to engage in recreational aquatic activities compared to younger adults. Therefore, more research is needed to explore older adults’ perceptions of water-based exercise. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore perceived benefits and barriers to water-based exercise and perceptions on how it differs from land-based exercise in older adults who regularly participate in water exercise classes. METHODS: Older adults were recruited from two fitness centers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore participants’ opinions regarding benefits and barriers to water-based exercise and how it differs from land-based exercise. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using first and second cycle qualitative coding. RESULTS: Eleven older adults (69 ± 7 years) completed the interviews. Participants engaged in 3.5 ± 1.2 water classes/week and had been attending water-based classes for 10.5 ± 7.6 years. Five themes emerged regarding perceived benefits: improved feelings of well-being, positive class elements, social engagement, improved health and fitness, and pain management. Three themes were identified regarding barriers: body image, class-related factors, and participant schedule. Compared to land activities, water-based exercise was perceived to be safer, more enjoyable, and within participants’ physical capabilities. CONCLUSIONS: Findings highlight important factors that influence older adults’ participation in water-based exercise, which may inform future programming strategies to enhance promotion of and engagement in water-based classes. Numerous benefits were reported, which correspond to several wellness domains including physical, mental, and social well-being. Participants highlighted advantages to exercising in the water compared to land, which influenced their exercise class decisions. Fewer barriers were identified, which may have been influenced by the fact that participants were already consistently attending water classes. Future research should explore perceptions of older adults who do not regularly participate in water-based exercise.

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