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Low Impact Workouts: The Joint Friendly Way to Exercise

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Donna Stark

Low-Impact Workouts

It is no secret that investing your time in physical activities is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Staying active boosts strength and mobility while reducing the risks of chronic diseases, injuries, and weight gain. However, you don't need a massive time commitment or participation in extreme sports to reap the benefits. Just 30 minutes per day with low-impact workouts can significantly change the trajectory of your overall well-being and quality of life.

So, if you’re unable to exercise like Jillian Michaels or just want to ease your way into the exercise game before summoning your inner Denise Austin or old-school Jack LaLanne, here’s some important information for a low-impact approach to improving your health.

What Are Low-Impact Workouts?

Low-impact workouts are specific exercises that are gentle on the body. They allow a person to remain active without putting too much stress on their joints. When most people think of low-impact exercises, the first things to come to mind are walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, and Pilates.

High-impact workouts, on the other hand, are exercises that place a greater impact on the body’s joints and feet. These types of exercise are more intense and expend an explosive type of energy. A few examples of high-impact workouts are running, cross-fit, Zumba, and plyometric exercises.

It’s important to not confuse low- and high-impact exercises with low- and high-intensity workouts. In the world of exercise, impact stands for the amount of force that is placed on specific areas of the body during a workout, while intensity is the measure of how much the heart and lungs are working. To clarify further, you can have a high-intensity, low-impact workout and you can also have a low-intensity, high-impact workout. Understanding this difference between impact and intensity can help shape and tailor the perfect fitness routine to your specific goals and needs.

Benefits of Low-Impact Workouts

There are numerous benefits to daily exercise, but low-impact workouts stand out for several compelling reasons. Not only are they a great option for people of all ages and abilities, they also support long-term fitness and joint health. Here’s how.

  • Reduces the risk of injury - Low-impact workouts put minimal stress on the body’s joints. This helps to reduce the risk of injuries, such as strains, sprains, fractures, and tendonitis.
  • Encourages longer workouts - The slow, controlled motions involved with many of these exercises encourage longer workouts. This can help you gradually build endurance and strength.
  • Improves cardiovascular health - Low-impact exercise can help strengthen your heart by increasing circulation and lowering both your blood pressure and heart rate. It can also help reduce stress, otherwise known as the “silent killer.”
  • Supports weight loss - A regular routine of physical activity will help you burn fat and lose pounds. Low-impact workouts are a particularly good option for those who are just starting on their weight loss journey.
  • Strengthens stability - Unlike high-impact exercises that are often explosive, low-impact training gives the body time to slow down and stabilize itself. This fosters better alignment, balance, and stability.
  • Decreases joint pain and damage - Low-impact exercises lubricate joint cartilage, which can help reduce stiffness and pain. They can also minimize wear and tear on the body over time.

By incorporating low-impact workouts into your daily fitness routine, you can achieve many of your health and wellness goals while also minimizing excessive stress on your body’s vulnerable joints. Low-impact exercise can benefit anyone, including seniors. If you’re an older person or have a parent who needs some physical activity, low-impact is an excellent option.

Low-Impact Exercises to Try

Two of the biggest misconceptions of low-impact workouts are that they are easier to do and not as effective as other forms of exercise, but that’s not the case at all. Low-impact workouts can be equally as demanding -- they just don’t deliver as many punishing effects. Here are some of the most popular low-impact workouts you may want to consider adding to your fitness routine.

  • Low-impact cardio, such as swimming, cycling, walking, and hiking
  • Yoga, tai chi, Pilates, PiYo (a mix of Pilates and yoga)
  • Shadowboxing, golf, Frisbee golf (which will include a lot of walking)
  • Elliptical, stationary bike, and rowing machines

Just like any other workout, you will only get out of low-impact activities what you put into them. So, if you want to achieve more and maximize your results, increase the intensity. Add some hill climbing to your walks or adjust the resistance level to your workout machines. It doesn’t matter what you decide to try as long as you are giving it your all. If you do need guidance on where to start or how to develop an effective fitness routine, just ask a certified personal trainer for help.

Low-Impact Exercises at Work

The great thing about low-impact workouts is that many of them don’t require a gym membership or expensive gear at all. It doesn’t take much to go for a brisk walk in the morning or over lunch, and you certainly don’t need a $3,000 bike to hit the roads. As long as your ride has air in its tires, you are good to go!

But perhaps the best thing about low-impact workouts is that you can even do them while working. A desk elliptical machine is perfect if you can’t seem to break away from work because it fits under your workspace and allows you to move your legs (like bike pedals) while seated. If you use a standing desk or work from home, there are plenty of options to choose from, too. A balance board, portable treadmill, or desk bike could be the very thing that helps you to reach your goals and cross the finish line in this marathon of good health.

Who Should Consider Low-Impact Workouts?

Although low-impact training is suitable for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities, certain groups can particularly benefit from them a little bit more than others. Do you fit into one of these categories?

  • Beginners - If you have maintained a mostly sedentary lifestyle and are just beginning to work out, low-impact training may be the way to go. These types of exercises are a great way to introduce your body to consistent physical activity.
  • Older adults - Low-impact workouts are particularly safer and more effective for those with balance and joint issues than any other type of fitness routine. Some exercises, such as tai chi, can even improve bone density in older adults.
  • Those with injuries or pre-existing limitations - People recovering from injuries or surgeries, or those with mobility issues, often need low-impact exercise options to safely rebuild or maintain strength, flexibility, and overall function.

Low-impact exercises are also great for those who participate in high-impact workouts and extreme sports. They provide a fantastic way for the body to recover between those more intense training sessions.

Low-Impact, Your Way

For those looking to stay active and improve overall fitness without putting excessive strain on their bodies, low-impact exercises offer an effective and joint-friendly alternative to high-impact workouts and extreme sports and activities. They make it easy to stick with your exercise routine and they’re perfectly suited for people of all ages and abilities. Most importantly, they don’t make you choose between fitness and the health of your joints.

Your doctors at The Joint Chiropractic understand the importance of daily movement to help create the best and healthiest life possible, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of the options available or ask your chiropractor what might be an ideal solution.

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