Low-impact exercise is often called gentle, easy or light, and can be better for people who can't or don't want to exercise. But what if you want to work hard but don't want all the jumping around? Can low-impact exercise help you burn calories and lose weight? Absolutely, says Paige Waehner, a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise.
High-Impact Exercise Isn't for Everyone
If you're trying to lose weight, raising your heart rate helps burn calories and you feel better and have more energy, says Waehner. For some people, high-impact exercise just isn't an option. Some of the reasons for avoiding high-impact exercise are:
- Injuries in the joints or bones
- Problems with arthritis or stress fractures
- Being a beginning exerciser
- Being very overweight
- Not liking high-impact exercise
According to Waehner, exercise is needed for healthy bones, but you don't have to jump around to get a good workout. Low-impact exercise simply means one foot is always in contact with the ground. It can raise your heart rate by working just a little harder.
Making the Most of Low-Impact Exercise
If you've ever jumped rope for the first time in years, you feel your heart beat very fast. But if you can't or don't want to do high-impact exercises, there are some alternatives. Here are just a few low-impact exercises. They can help you get the most out of your workouts.
Go for a Walk
Walking is by far the most popular low-impact exercise. Try these to get your heart rate up:
- Walk faster - One mistake we often make is walking too slowly to get the heart rate up, says Waehner. Picking up the pace can help increase the benefits of your workouts.
- Interval training - Add short bursts of speed or a steep hill to your walking workouts. This increases the intensity of your workouts as well as helps you burn more calories.
- Use your arms - A treadmill can help you get a good walk. Just make sure you're not holding onto the rails of the treadmill. When you're walking outside, swing your arms. Holding weights as you walk is not good because it can cause injury. Consider using walking poles instead.
- Mix things up - If walking is your only exercise, add other exercises to keep your body active. Walking is something we do every day and therefore, we're very good at it. Trying something new can boost your energy level and help with fat loss.
Take the Stairs
Walking up stairs is a good idea. Whether they're real stairs or a moving staircase at the gym, this can be a strong workout. It's also a great way to get your heart rate up. If you're a beginner, try adding a few minutes of stair climbing to your usual workout. Or you can hop on the step mill at the gym for a quick five minutes. You'll find you don't have to go very fast to get your heart rate up.
Enjoy a Hike
Hiking can be another good low-impact activity. Hiking works best when you're walking uphill. Walking up and down hills uses muscles in the lower body. Add a backpack and you're burning even more calories.
Join a Step Aerobics Class
Step aerobics is an exercise where you step onto a raised platform. This can get your heart rate up without doing any jumping. Using the arms can help as well. You can also try group fitness classes or videos that may offer ways to change a workout to keep it low impact.
You can also choose other activities that have no impact, but give you a good workout. These include cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing or rowing. Any of these activities can be good if you work hard. You may also want to cross-train with higher impact activities. This can keep your body moving in different ways.
Boost Your Workouts
The key to making low-impact exercise work is to work a little harder. Use your whole body in what you're doing. Try some of these ideas for making your workouts more active:
- Upper body movements - Upper body moves can add to your exercise level. Try swinging your arms when you walk. You can raise the arms overhead during step or other types of exercise. Choose exercise machines at the gym with upper body options. This might be a cross-country ski machine or elliptical trainer.
- Go faster - Pick up the pace, whether you're walking, cycling or climbing stairs. This is another way to make your workouts a little tougher.
- Use big movements – These will help to increase your heart rate. An example of big movements is if you are marching in place, make the move harder by bringing your knees up higher. Or circle your arms over your head.
- Involve the lower body - Most activities do involve the lower body. You can make them more difficult by doing things like squats or lunges. This can really make the legs stronger. Add walking lunges or side steps with squats to your walk for a better workout.
Low Impact Exercise can be Good for the Back
There are many types of exercises that are easy on the back and good for the heart, says Peter F. Ullrich Jr., M.D., who works with people who have back and spine problems.
- Walking - In general, walking is very gentle on the back. Walking two to three miles three times a week can be very helpful, says Dr. Ullrich. Plus, you don't need any special gear. All you need is a good pair of shoes. Walking can be done inside or outside almost anywhere. You can even walk at home on a treadmill.
- Stationary bicycling - Some people are more comfortable sitting than standing. Stationary biking may be good for them, say Dr. Ullrich. Bicycling or spinning classes are also popular. There are several types of upright and recumbent, or reclining, bikes. These can be purchased for home use, and many come with different kinds of programs.
- Elliptical trainer or step machine - These machines provide a low-impact workout because you are using pedals above the ground. You move in an oval motion instead of stepping on a hard surface. The motor on the machine gives you a smoother step and is less jarring than walking. Some of them use the arms to push and pull as well. This can make your upper body stronger.
- Water therapy - Doing exercise in the water is also easy on the back, says Dr. Ullrich. Floating on the water is less stressful on the back and spine. You can move easily, and stretching exercises are less painful. This can help build strength in the low back or neck, and reduce back pain. Water therapy exercise is very useful for people in too much pain to exercise on a mat or hard floor. Water exercises are also very good for older people, says Dr. Ullrich.
Whatever low impact exercise you choose, it should be active enough to increase the heart rate, which is measured by your age. Raising the heart rate for at least 20 minutes helps make your heart stronger. It also helps you burn fat and stay fit.
Now that you have some ideas for low-impact exercise, go out and try some! Low impact exercise is a healthy way to get stronger and feel better.