Some time ago, I wrenched my back just before a big trip. As the physical therapist mercilessly ground her fist into my lower back, she warned me that long airplane trips would stiffen my spine significantly and that I should prepare for more pain. Though she was oblivious to the irony of the moment, she was right.

When I got to my destination, my lower back was throbbing. At any moment, it felt like it could go out again. The flight itself, which left late and was packed, didn’t help matters. In short, I arrived in a sour mood.

Fortunately, the hotel had a good pool. Within moments of unpacking, I was in the water and feeling better. With each step I took into the cool blueness, the stress seemed to flow out of my back — and my mind. As I lightly treaded water, I found myself smiling without quite knowing why.

It’s a feeling that aquatics professionals know well. Many of you instinctively turn to the water for mental and physical healing. But it’s a good bet you don’t know why water makes you feel so good. Or the amazing transformations it causes in the body.

That’s why I’m so excited about this month’s feature, “Healing Waters” by Dr. Bruce Becker. An accomplished researcher and longtime rehabilitation expert, Becker clearly lays out the physiological explanation for water’s healing and restorative properties.

Turns out, the simple act of immersing yourself may be the best “drug” out there — one capable of lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and improving heart health. You even burn more calories simply standing in water. Add exercise to the mix and you’ve got a potent elixir for health and healing. Best of all, about the only side effect is a smile.

Sadly, these facts are little known or understood outside of a few researchers such as Becker. In most cases, the data is incomplete or inconclusive. And it has yet to be published or accepted by the medical community.

Becker and others are working to change that. But it will take more than a few dedicated researchers to make the general public, not to mention insurance companies and government officials, change how they view the water.

That will take an entire industry arming itself with facts and working toward a paradigm shift, a shift away from quick-fix drugs and reactionary medicine to a more preventive, holistic water-based approach.

Such a shift would not only transform health care, but also aquatics: Patrons could use their insurance to pay for memberships or aquatic therapy; doctors could prescribe a round of water for heart patients rather than a round of drugs; aquatic exercise could lose the “blue hair” stereotype and pools could become the hip place to work out and get fit; the stressed-out masses could head to the water for relief.

It can happen, but only with continued research and a body of knowledgeable professionals who can explain to their patrons just how good the water is for them. While the local pool may not be the fountain of youth, you can certainly make it a source for health and healing.

Gary Thill

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Credit: Gary Thill