Comparative Effects of 2 Aqua Exercise Programs on Physical Function, Balance, and Perceived Quality of Life in Older Adults With Osteoarthritis

Fisken, Alison L. PhD; Waters, Debra L. PhD; Hing, Wayne A. PhD; Steele, Michael PhD; Keogh, Justin W. PhD

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: January/March 2015 - Volume 38 - Issue 1 - p 17–27
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000019
Research Reports

Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease, which affects a large number of older adults. Many older adults with OA are physically inactive, which can contribute to reduced functional capability, quality of life, and an increased risk of falls. Although hydrotherapy is often recommended for older adults with OA, less is known about aqua fitness (AF), a widely available form of aqua-based exercise.

Purpose: To compare the effect of an AF program and a seated aqua-based exercise program on a range of functional measures and quality of life among older adults with OA.

Methods: Thirty-five older adults with OA were allocated to an AF group or an active control group who performed seated exercises in warm water for 12 weeks. The primary outcome measure was the timed up-and-go (TUG) test; other measures included step test, sit-to-stand (STS) test, handgrip strength test, 400-m walk test, Arthritis Impact Measurement Scale-Short Form (AIMS2-SF), and Falls Efficacy Scale-International (FES-I).

Results: FES-I scores improved significantly in the AF group compared with the control group (P = 0.04). Within-group analysis indicated both groups significantly improved their 400-m walk time (P = 0.04) and that the AF group significantly improved its step test right (P = 0.02) and left (P = 0.00) and the AIMS2-SF total score (P = 0.02). No significant change in TUG, STS, or handgrip strength was observed for either group.

Conclusions: Aqua fitness may offer a number of positive functional and psychosocial benefits for older adults with OA, such as a reduced fear of falling and increased ability to perform everyday tasks.

1Human Potential Centre, AUT University, New Zealand.

2Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand.

3Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Australia.

4Health and Rehabilitation Research Institute, AUT University, New Zealand.

5Department of Mathematics and Computing, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei Darussalam.

6Graduate Research School, Griffith University, Australia.

7Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

Address correspondence to: Alison L. Fisken, PhD, Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Sport and Recreation, AUT University, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New Zealand (

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2015 Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, APTA