When it's chilly and drizzly outside, the last thing many women want to do is put on a raincoat and head out for a power walk or run. Yet how to stay true to your fitness goals?

When it's chilly and drizzly outside, the last thing many women want to do is put on a raincoat and head out for a power walk or run. Yet how to stay true to your fitness goals?

Swimming and other aquatic exercises offer a low-impact, yet demanding way to use all the muscle groups. You'll get stronger from working out in the water; you'll also likely improve certain maladies.

"It's easy on the joints, so if you have any health issues, and joint issues specifically, it will be easy for you to swim and you can keep swimming for your whole life," says Laurie Cingle, program director of Club Northwest in Grants Pass. "It's great for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, knee and hip replacements and lower back pain."

Decreased blood pressure is another physical benefit from swimming, explains Cingle. When you're using oxygen during any aerobic exercise, your resting heart rate is reduced, increasing the cardio input so more blood is pumped by your heart to the rest of your body, lowering blood pressure.

"It also makes you feel energized," says Cingle. "Think about when you were a child after a day spent swimming — you know all your muscles work, you feel more fit, toned and stronger. And because it's an aerobic exercise, it does help maintain your weight."

How many calories does swimming burn? It depends on the stroke, says Cingle. "If a person weighs 150 pounds and they're going to swim for 30 minutes without stopping, the back stroke burns 238 calories, the breast stroke burns 340, the side stroke burns 272 and the forward crawl, performed at a moderate speed, burns 272 calories."

If you weigh more, you'll burn more; if you weigh less, you'll burn less. No matter how many calories your swim time leaves in your wake, you'll be working out nearly every part of your body.

"The chest, back, biceps and triceps, your torso area and your abdominals, because of the rolling side to side," Says Cingle. "All of your leg muscles including your hamstrings, quadriceps and your gluteals will get exercise as well," she says.

The pluses aren't just physical. Like most exercise, swimming creates a sense of happiness by producing endorphins, leading to a general feeling of well-being.

"If people enjoy being in the water, it's an amazing source of psychological benefits," says Bill Macy, director of Avamere Health and Fitness Club in Medford. "People say being surrounded by water and away from outside stimulation is almost like a form of meditation, taking their mind off daily stresses"¦ The water can be a warm, protective, comfort zone where you basically feel supported as a whole being."

Swimming is appropriate for people of any age or fitness level, but some may just enjoy the water and not the swimming aspect of the exercise. If you're unable to swim, don't know how or it's too stressful for your body or the idea of being under water or getting your hair wet makes you uncomfortable — locate an aquatic class.

"This is another type of activity to do in the water that has similar benefits," says Cingle. "Basically it's where you stand on the bottom of the pool in varying depths and perform movements. There are also deep-water aquatic classes where you wear a flotation belt around the waist and move or run without touching the bottom, which is great rehabilitation for the joints and muscles for people who can't have any impact after a knee or hip replacement."

Water fitness programs range from step aerobics-style classes to prenatal fitness to lifeguard training and lessons for every age group. Many are tailored to suit older swimmers while others are especially created for babies and tots. Check with local YMCAs and private fitness and health clubs that are part of other institutions such as colleges and retirement centers.

Look for a club that has certified instructors leading the classes. If you're working with a health care professional to help heal an injury, he or she will guide you through your aquatic workout needs. If you're self-pacing, it's wise to seek the advice of an aquatic expert so you know you are working within your abilities and not at risk of injury.

Then dive into your new fitness routine!