Staying active is an important part of staying healthy — but sometimes exercise can be hard on the body. This is especially true if you’re new to working out or have sensitive joints or injuries. But skipping exercise altogether can make matters worse. In fact, if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, staying active is one of the best things you can do for your joints and bones.1 That’s where low-impact workouts come in.
"Regardless of age, I hope everybody is moving every single day," says Andy Gallardo, a certified personal trainer and director of employee wellness at Kaiser Permanente. "Low-impact exercises give you a great opportunity to have some movement, and they’re a great way for a beginner to start an exercise program. The risk of injury is very low, and you’re more likely to be consistent with your exercising and make it more of an everyday practice."
But low impact doesn’t have to mean low intensity, adds Gallardo. In place of running or jumping, activities like walking, cycling, and swimming can all boost cardiovascular fitness and improve your heart health. This can help protect you against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.2 If you want to build strength, try low-impact workouts such as yoga, rowing, and strength training. These types of workouts can help you build muscle and improve flexibility without over-straining your joints.
"With low-impact workouts, you’re still getting all of the same benefits you would get with other types of exercise," Gallardo explains. "Plus, it’s a great stress reducer."
Ready to dive in but not sure where to start? Gallardo recommends the following 6 low-impact workouts. Find a few that work for you, and always listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t force it — try something else!
Walking is the most popular low-impact exercise,3 and for good reason. It’s suitable for all ages and fitness levels, it requires no special equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere. To boost the intensity, you can take a hilly route or speed up your pace.
Swimming provides a full-body workout while taking pressure off your joints. And whether you’re having fun in a water aerobics class or swimming laps, you’ll get a great cardio workout. Just grab your suit and a pair of swim goggles, and head to the pool.
Whether you hop on a stationary bike indoors or ride your bicycle outside, you’ll get a fantastic workout that’s easy on your knees, ankles, hips, and back. You set the pace, so speed up or climb more hills if you want to increase your heart rate.
Rowing is a form of low-impact cardio that also works your muscles, including your shoulders, arms, and back. You can use a rowing machine at the gym or an actual boat. These workouts may feel exhausting at first, but like with any regular exercise routine, you can build energy and endurance over time.
Yoga can improve your mental health4 and physical fitness through a series of poses and breathing exercises. Regular yoga practice helps develop strength, balance, and flexibility — with very little strain on your joints. Start with simple yoga poses and work up from there.
Lifting weights can have plenty of health benefits, including increased muscle mass and stronger bones. Dumbbells, resistance bands, and weight machines are among the good low-impact options. Start slowly, and gradually increase the resistance or weight as the exercises feel easier.
No matter which low-impact workouts you choose, always keep safety in mind. Don’t rush progress by going too fast or lifting too much weight — instead, find other ways to get a better workout. And if you have an ongoing condition, an injury, or balance concerns, ask your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Once you have a good routine and are feeling up to it, Gallardo recommends challenging yourself and trying new things. But always remember that even a small amount of exercise is better than none.
"Some things are going to stick, some will not," he says. "It’s important to find something that you’re going to do on a consistent basis. When all else fails, go take your dog for a walk."