The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a generalized water-based exercise program (WBE) compared to a land-based exercise program (LBE) on improving cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, forward trunk flexion and strength measurements of elderly women aged 70 +/- 3.2 years (mean +/- SD). Forty-one healthy, sedentary women were selected to participate in the study and were randomly assigned to the LBE or WBE. The 2 groups exercised for 12 weeks, 3 times/week for 45 min. Fitness testing was done before, during and after training, and included measurements of peak aerobic power (VO2 peak), forward trunk flexion, sum of skinfolds, grip strength, curl-ups and push-ups. Between the tests performed before and after training, there were significant improvements in VO2 peak in both groups (p < 0.05) with no significant differences between the groups (p > 0.05). The LBE group also showed a significant improvement in the total number of curl-ups performed (p < 0.05). There were no significant differences in trunk forward flexion, total (right plus left) grip strength, push-ups, waist to hip ratio, sum of skinfolds or body mass index between the tests performed before and after training over time within groups or between groups (p > 0.05). The results show that general exercise interventions resulted in improvements in cardiovascular fitness (for both groups) and abdominal endurance (in the LBE only), but the two exercise programs used were not specific enough or long enough to cause improvements in muscular strength, flexibility or body composition. Furthermore, except for changes in abdominal endurance, the type of exercise venue (land vs. water) did not have a significant effect on the results obtained.