Low Impact Cardio: Joint-Friendly Workouts

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July 10, 2020

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Low-impact cardio is great for everyone — whether you exercise regularly or you are just starting to workout. It’s much more gentle on your joints than high-impact exercises like running, making it a great option for those who need to give their joints a rest, but still want to get a workout in.

You can do low-impact cardio at home, in the gym, or outside. If you’re recovering from an injury or unsure about exercising on sore knees or other joints, always make sure to consult your doctor or healthcare professional before starting any exercise.

What is low-impact cardio?

Low-impact cardio is a form of exercise that increases your heart rate while minimising the amount of stress or impact you put your joints under. Many typical cardio workouts like running or jump squats involve lots of jumping and high impact on your joints, whereas low impact exercises avoid this.

Cardio exercise increases your heart rate because your muscles are working harder and require more oxygen, which means breathing faster and deeper to keep up with demand. Low-impact exercise allows you to reap the benefits of cardio without placing stress on your joints.

This shouldn’t be confused with low-intensity exercise. Low-impact cardio workouts can still allow you to break a sweat and elevate your heart rate, just like traditional high-impact cardio. You could do a high-intensity session on a bike or rowing machine, without your feet ever touching the ground!  Joint-friendly workouts like this can help reduce the risk of injury, but your heart rate may be no different than it would be during high-intensity training.

The benefits of low-impact cardio

Low-impact cardio has numerous benefits for your physical and mental health.

Easier on your joints

Low-impact cardio is much more gentle on your joints than higher impact alternatives. This makes it ideal for those with joint conditions or injuries, or when you simply need a break from high-impact training. 

Improved mood

Like all exercise, low-impact cardio can increase the production of endorphins and subsequently improve your mood. While this is often called a “runner’s high”, you don’t need to do high-impact cardio to reap the benefits.

According to North Dakota State University, even a gentle walk is enough to promote the release of all those feel-good endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. 

Cardiovascular fitness

Improving your cardio fitness is great for your overall health. Cardio exercise helps improve heart health, which can help protect you against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Keep active on a rest day 

Rest days are important for allowing your muscles to recover and for your nervous system to regenerate. A low-impact cardio workout like walking or cycling can be a great way to keep your body moving or have an active recovery day.

Sustainably build strength and endurance

Low-impact cardio such as yoga or rowing can be a great way to sustainably build muscle without placing extra strain on your joints.  Elevating your heart rate will also help increase your endurance as well as build muscle over time.

Low-impact cardio workouts

There are many different kinds of low-impact workouts that are considered cardio — some you might not have thought of before! Below are some great low-impact cardio workout options and some of the best exercise equipment that will get your heart rate up and help with improving your cardio fitness. 

1. Walking 

Walking is a great form of low-intensity, low-impact cardio which is part of all Sweat programs. Because you can set the pace and intensity, it's perfect for all fitness levels, you can do it almost anywhere, and you don’t need any equipment!

Increase the intensity by taking a more hilly route or speeding up your pace. If you want to make it a social activity, try walking with your workout buddy.

2. Cycling

Cycling is a great way to get your heart rate up with virtually no impact on your joints. You can do this with a stationary bike at home or in the gym, or take your bike for a ride outside. You set the pace, so the faster you go or the more hills you climb, the higher your heart rate will get.

Cycling is also an excellent option for adding incidental exercise into your daily routine by using it as a form of transport to get lots of small exercise snacks throughout your day! You could consider cycling to work instead of driving or taking public transport, or riding to do daily errands such as your weekly shop.

3. Swimming

Swimming is another option for a low-impact cardio workout. You can do it in a pool, or if you’re lucky enough to live near the ocean, practise your swimming there. Swimming not only gets your heart rate up, but it also helps to strengthen your muscles throughout your entire body.

4. Elliptical

Ellipticals are stationary exercise machines perfect for getting in some  low-impact exercise.  They mimic the movement of running, without the associated impact on your joints. They also offer a full-body workout, as you’re using both your arms and legs to keep the machine moving.

5. Rowing

Whether you use a rowing machine or an actual boat, rowing is another form of full-body,low-impact cardio - you’ll feel it in your arms, core and legs. 

Rowing offers a really effective low-impact cardio workout that is suitable for all fitness levels, and will help you to build strength and endurance over time.

Don’t have access to a boat? Try an at-home rower.

6. Yoga

Depending on the style and pace of the flow, yoga can increase your heart rate with very little strain on your joints. More intense yoga flows, like Vinyasa, are still a low-impact exercise but can elevate your heart rate and get you sweaty.

There are three different Vinyasa-style yoga programs available in the Sweat app, as well as yoga workouts available via the On Demand dashboard, so you can see which style of yoga suits you.

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Kickstart your workouts with low-impact cardio

If you can’t do high impact cardio, don’t be discouraged. Low-impact cardio doesn’t mean it’s going to be low intensity! It’s a great way to increase your heart rate and get fit with less risk of injuring your joints or worsening existing joint issues. 

If you're ready for more joint-friendly training, try Low Impact with Kayla Itsines. It includes easy-to-follow low-impact cardio and resistance workouts you can complete in under 30 minutes at home or in the gym. 

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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