Best Forms of Low Impact Cardio

Someone doing low-impact cardio.

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Low impact cardio is a versatile exercise category because it can fit just about anyone’s lifestyle and health goals. Older people use it to stay active. Professional bodybuilders use it to help lose fat. It’s often the first step in many people’s fitness journeys. These exercises will help you build healthy habits without putting too much stress on your body.

1. Walking

Walking is the king of all low-impact cardio exercises. It can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, depending on your goals. It improves your cardiovascular fitness and reduces your risk of developing heart conditions, diabetes and other problems. Walking can also strengthen your bones and muscles, if you keep an all-around active lifestyle.

The benefits of walking go far beyond improving your fitness levels, though. It can lower stress levels, improve your mood and even help with memory and sleeping habits. Start with a simple 30-minute walk every day on a flat surface, then slowly increase the difficulty over time. While low-impact exercises are designed to limit the stress on your body, you still need to push yourself if you want to see improvements.

2. Swimming

Swimming is a more challenging exercise than walking because it recruits all the muscles in your body, but the water also takes some pressure off of your joints. Many rehabilitation and therapy exercises take place in water for this reason. It’s an effective workout with a reduced risk of injury or reaggravating a chronic issue.

Swimming has the same benefits as walking, plus a little bit more. Since it’s a full-body exercise, it can heighten your coordination, balance and even posture. It also challenges your respiratory system, improving your conditioning. The best part: it’s not a chore. Swimming is a leisurely activity that people of all ages and lifestyles can thoroughly enjoy.

3. Cycling

Cycling is usually a more intense exercise than walking and swimming, but it’s still a safe low-impact cardio activity because of the fixed range of motion. You perform the same exact movement over and over again and rarely put your body in a precarious position. Additionally, you can go at your own pace and on terrain of your choosing, so it has a more flexible range of difficulty.

It has all the benefits of other low-impact exercises, namely increased fitness levels, decreased stress and improvement of cardiovascular health, but it also helps with joint mobility. The movement of cycling thoroughly loosens up the ankles, knees and hips without putting too much strain on them, which helps alleviate issues like arthritis and lower back pain.

4. Elliptical Machine

An elliptical machine is, for lack of a better phrase, a controlled version of running. The movement is similar, but rather than making impact with the ground on every footfall, you simply glide into the next step. This feature takes the main setbacks people experience with running out of the equation. You won’t feel any joint pain or shin splints on an elliptical machine, which makes it a great low-impact workout.

You can also adjust the resistance on elliptical machines according to your fitness level, so anyone can add it to their routine. They’re also much simpler to use than other cardio machines, with no complicated controls involved. Just hop on and go!

5. Rowing

Another low-impact piece of cardio equipment you can use is the rowing machine. An intense rowing session can burn a significant amount of calories and push your body to the limits in as little as 15 minutes, making it a super time-friendly workout. It improves your strength, speed, endurance and coordination, forcing your biggest muscle groups to work together to repeat the movement. 

Like the elliptical machine, you can also adjust the level of resistance on the fly, allowing you to keep on rowing without interruption. Another cool improvement you might see from rowing is increased grip strength, which is a more important health indicator than you might think.

6. Yoga

Yoga is the most relaxing exercise we’ve discussed thus far. It focuses on improving your coordination, balance, flexibility and core strength. While it probably won’t burn as many calories as the other exercises on this list, it will still give your cardiovascular and respiratory systems a unique challenge. Yoga also comes in many different forms and specialties. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Hatha: best for beginners, focuses on simple poses and breathing exercises
  • Vinyasa: another good option for beginners, with a wider variety of movements
  • Kundalini: meditation-focused, sometimes includes chanting along with the different poses
  • Bikram: consists of 26 specific poses and is usually held in a hot room to increase sweating
  • Iyengar: uses straps, blocks and other props to help align your body in relaxing positions
  • Yin: consists of holding poses for a long period of time, usually three to five minutes
  • Viniyoga: a more personalized form of yoga that allows you to work at your own pace

Yoga’s meditative qualities also makes it an effective exercise for improving mental health, which sets it apart from the other low-impact exercises we’ve discussed.

7. Step Aerobics

Aerobics is another great way to improve coordination and flexibility, and step aerobics makes things a little more challenging by adding an elevated platform to the mix. Most step workouts involve replicating functional movements that you perform throughout the day, such as walking up and down the stairs. 

Becoming more confident in those everyday activities will also improve your mental health and give you the courage to try more intense workouts over time. Start with a simple routine, then slowly work your way up to more complex movements.

Add Low Impact Cardio to Your Routine

The above exercises are low-risk, high-reward activities. They make you stronger and more agile while not putting too much pressure on your joints. Try them all out, pick your favorite and add it to your routine as soon as possible!

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