If you’re new to exercise, getting back into fitness after an injury or simply want a break from intense exercise, low-impact cardio may be the perfect exercise for you. Low-impact cardio exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking can be safe and effective Because these movements are usually easier on your joints than high-impact exercises like running or jumping rope.
But don’t underestimate the benefits of low-impact cardio. You’ll build strength, stability, and flexibility, plus you’ll find yourself sweating at the end of your workout, says certified personal trainer and founder of Dynamic Fitness. Diana Falzarano. Here’s everything you need to know about low-impact cardio, including the benefits and which exercise is considered the lowest impact.
Before starting any new fitness regimen, talk with your healthcare provider.
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What are low impact exercises?
These exercises are low-impact and gentle on your joints, and are great for individuals who are new to exercise or who are recovering from an injury. They are movements in which there is always at least one foot on the ground. Low-impact exercises put less physical stress on the joints, while high-impact exercises like running and jumping take more of a load than just your body weight.
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1. It reduces the risk of injury
Research shows that you’re less likely to get injured by performing low-impact versus high-impact cardio. For example, compare the effect of lunge and jump. Because the lunge is a static exercise, it will put less stress on your knees and other joints than the jumping lunge, which requires both feet to be left on the ground. Additionally, if you’re recovering from an injury or have joint pain from arthritis or other causes, low-impact exercises, with proper form and guidance, will help strengthen your legs without the risk of additional pain or injury.
2. Helps improve mood
Aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking can reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood overall due to exercise-induced increased blood circulation to the brain, according to research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Incorporating these workouts into your fitness regimen may be just what you need to improve your strength and lift your mood.
3. It can enhance stability and balance
If you’ve ever done Pilates or yoga, both of which are considered low-impact exercises, you know that your stability and balance are constantly challenged as you progress through the movements and poses. Over time, and with continued practice, you will notice significant improvements in these important areas of physical fitness. Since low-impact exercises require at least one foot to stay on the ground, you can expect many low-impact exercises to include single-leg exercises, which will also challenge your balance and increase your stability.
4. It helps get your heart pumping and build muscle
Low impact doesn’t necessarily mean low intensity — think of the effort you put in to complete a cycling class or swim a few laps. Other low-impact, high-intensity exercises include battle ropes, which will get your heart pumping and challenge muscle groups from head to toe, kettlebell swings and strength exercises like squats and deadlifts. The heavier you do kettlebell exercises and strength exercises, the more you will challenge your muscles without overburdening your joints.
The best low impact cardio exercises
From walking to yoga, there are a variety of low-impact cardio exercises that can be done at home or in the gym. Whether you’re looking for low-impact cardio for weight loss or low-impact cardio options for bad knees, there’s something for practically everyone.
Never underestimate the benefits of putting one foot in front of the other. If you’re getting back into your routine after an injury or are just starting your fitness journey, start by walking until you reach the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation of 10,000 steps per day. If you live in an area with hills, incorporate some incline into your walk when you’re ready. Hills help target the muscles in your legs and core and get your heart rate up.
Swimming is considered the least cardio impact because it puts very little pressure on the joints and can be done at any age. To boost your heart rate, try this interval workout: Complete two sets of 10 laps of 30 to 45 seconds each lap with 15 seconds of rest in between. Looking to raise your heart rate faster? Increase your pace.
Cycling is a great option for anyone who has back pain or is recovering from an injury but wants to increase the intensity of their cardio. Sign up at your local Spin studio, order an exercise bike at home or take your two-wheeler for a ride. Experts recommend cycling three times a week for best results.
The elliptical machine is a great option for a low-impact cardio machine and is available at most gyms. To avoid injury, make sure your hand position and incline of the elliptical are adjusted to your height and body type. By increasing the resistance and intensity, you’ll definitely work up a sweat in less than 20 minutes.
There are many benefits of yoga but here are just a few: It can help improve balance, reduce stress, benefit posture, and may improve your overall quality of life. You can stream the lessons online or on one of the best yoga apps if you can’t get to the studio in person.
With its slow, low-impact movements, Pilates has many benefits. Falzarano says Pilates can help increase core strength, improve posture, reduce injury risk, and promote body awareness. Find a local studio or stream a Pilates class at home. If you’re looking to improve your Pilates workout at home, consider investing in a high-quality Pilates reformer.
Low-impact cardio exercises to try at home
For this 10-minute low-impact cardio workout Made by Falzarano, you will need a pair of slip discs. Paragliding is an effective way to get your heart rate up while challenging your stability and core strength.
- Do each exercise for 30 seconds.
- After each round, rest 30-60 seconds.
- Cycle through the exercise three times.
1. squat payments
Think of this as a burpee without the push-up. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a sliding disc under each foot. Bend your knees in a squatting position. Place your hands on the floor and move your legs behind you into a plank position. Wait a second. Return to the squatting position. Then put your feet on the floor and drive through your feet to stand upright. Reach your arms above your head. Repeat for 30 seconds.
2. Wood to pike to pushup
A stinger with a glider under each foot. Find a straight-arm strong plank with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your legs hip-width apart. Lift your hips toward the ceiling while maintaining a neutral spine. Lower your hips back into a plank position. Keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels, lower it into a push-up. Inhale while bending the arms, and exhale as you press off the floor. Return to plank position and repeat for 30 seconds. For an added challenge, use one glider instead of two and keep the legs pressed together throughout the movement.
3. Landing jacks
Stand with your heels together and your toes extended
A glider under each foot. Reach your arms toward the ceiling. Move your right leg to the right, bending both legs into a squat, and press your hands to the floor. Slide your right leg back, stand tall and extend your arms toward the ceiling. Repeat the squat and bench press to your left side. Alternate from side to side for 30 seconds. Make sure to bend both legs and drive through both feet as you stand upright.
Tatiana Lampa is certified in Nutrition and Exercise Science, Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also the founder and creator of Training with T App and Move Better. Tatiana started her career as a fitness professional 7 years ago in New York City. Tatiana has trained for hundreds of clients worldwide and has worked alongside numerous fitness magazines and brands and will be a contributor of fitness and wellness content to Good Housekeeping.