For the past few years, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) has dominated the fitness world. HIIT is a specific type of workout characterized by quick, high-intensity movements followed by short periods of rest, repeated back to back. And while it can be hugely effective at burning calories and increasing heart rate, the sheer amount of strain it can place on joints and the overall force of movements can make it challenging for some people.
However, low-impact exercise can provide similar health benefits to those associated with HIIT but with less force put on the body. Low-impact workouts can be a great option for older adults, individuals with joint problems, people recovering from injuries, or those just starting out on their fitness journeys. Essentially, low-impact exercise is beneficial for everyone, and you should consider making it a part of your health-and-wellness routine.
Read on to learn what specific kinds of health benefits a low-impact workout provides, and check out some exercises to get you started.
Who should try it?
As mentioned above, anyone can benefit from incorporating low-impact workouts into their routine. But there are certain groups of people who will find a low-impact workout is their only exercise option. If you fall into this category, you should know that there are still varying degrees of intensity when it comes to low-impact fitness, and you can decide what level is right for you.
The CDC recommends that adults sixty-five and older get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week; this is aerobic exercise, meaning the exercises you perform must increase your heart rate and respiration. Low-impact workouts, such as cycling, walking, or yoga, can still get the blood pumping and provide tremendous cardiovascular benefit when performed regularly. Programs such as SilverSneakers are aimed at helping seniors stay fit and healthy through exercise, and SilverSneakers provides resources for virtual and in-person classes you can attend—sometimes at no cost.
People with joint pain/arthritis
When it comes to HIIT, one of the biggest concerns of older adults is the strain it can place on bones and joints. However, these health concerns are more common than you might think and affect a far larger portion of the population than just the elderly. If you are worried about the strain of a high-impact workout but you are physically able to perform moderate- to high-intensity aerobic activities, low-impact workouts such as a dance class, Pilates, and swimming are great for increasing heart rate significantly without the jumping or running required in HIIT.
If you’re looking to improve your physical fitness but haven’t established a set routine yet, try incorporating three to five low-impact exercise days into your week. You can start with a thirty-minute walk each day, and then gradually increase or rotate in other low-impact exercises like rowing, yoga, or no-jumping aerobics. Once you have established a pattern and have found the types of exercises you’re comfortable with, you can experiment with other forms of exercise.
Why try it?
The health benefits of low-impact workouts are numerous, and they’re arguably more sustainable than HIIT or other forms of intense exercise. Even seasoned athletes can reap the benefits of including low-impact exercises in their routines. Low-impact training can help prevent muscle and joint strain from too many back-to-back high-impact workouts while providing the level of aerobic activity necessary for good health.
Low-impact cardio activities like walking and biking are incredibly beneficial for your cardiovascular system. Exercises like these increase heart rate while putting very little to no strain on joints, so you can go at your own pace. They can also be performed as a social activity, offering even more benefits. And it’s not just your heart and lungs that stand to gain from frequent low-impact exercising; your mind can benefit, too. That’s because all forms of low-impact cardio can give you a boost of endorphins and a subsequent euphoric boost to your mood, much like the one that runners experience.
One of the most important elements of low-impact exercise is that it’s sustainable for your body. Because they are so low-impact, these types of exercises can generally be performed for longer periods of time and more frequently, making it easier for you to achieve maximum health benefits. They can also help you slowly build your strength over time, which will allow you to eventually incorporate more high-intensity exercises into your routine.
How do I get started?
The specific low-impact exercises mentioned above are a great place to start. However, there are also a number of weight-training and other cardio-based activities that qualify as low-impact as well, and you can use them to diversify your routine.
Jumping lunges are a common type of HIIT exercise, but stationary lunges remove the impact of coming down on your knees. To perform them, stand with one leg in front of you and one leg behind you, about shoulder-width apart. Bend at your knees until the knee of your back leg is nearly touching the floor, and then stand to straighten both legs. Repeat with the other leg.
Strong legs and glutes can be beneficial for helping you perform a number of other low-impact exercises, and body-weight squats are a great way to build your leg and glute strength. With your feet hip-width apart, slowly bend at your knees, being mindful that your weight is in your heels and your knees don’t extend past your toes. Straighten your legs, and stand up, squeezing your glutes as you lift.
Modified jumping jacks
Traditional jumping jacks are a relatively low-impact exercise. However, even slight jumping can put stress on joints if performed for an extended period of time. Here’s a variation to consider. Start by standing with your feet slightly apart and your arms at your sides. Step one foot out to the side at a time, simultaneously extending your arms above your head and moving back down as you bring your leg back in. Repeat with the other leg.
A strong core is key to a strong body, but if performing crunches on the floor hurts your back, this is another option you can try. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on the back of your head with your elbows out. Lift one knee upward, and move your opposite elbow to meet your knee. Repeat on the other side.
Whether you just want to get started on your exercise journey, want to raise your heart rate without sacrificing your joints, or add a little variety and stability to your current routine, low-impact exercises are a great way to do it.
*Remember, if you’re starting any new wellness routine, consult your doctor first.