Fitness enthusiasts frequently link high-impact activities such as running, jumping rope and step aerobics with cardiovascular health and improved fitness. But if pounding the pavement is taking a toll on your joints, it may be time to consider swapping your high-impact activities for low-impact and no-impact workouts.
“Low- and no-impact activities provide little to no stress on the hips, knees and ankle joints, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also burn calories, build muscle and help boost your mood,” says Kelly Weir, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health. Even athletes who are dedicated to a high-impact sport can benefit from an occasional low- or no-impact workout.
Effective Low-Impact or No-Impact Activities
If your joints are overtaxed, it might be time to fold some low- and no-impact activities into your exercise repertoire. Here are a dozen low- and no-impact workouts that can help you achieve your fitness goals:
- Walking: Walking is not only low-impact, it requires nothing more than a pair of shoes. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You can even use it to commute. Stroll with a buddy and you’ll also build in a layer of accountability.
- Swimming: One of the most challenging no-impact activities, swimming provides resistance from the water without compressing the joints. Plus, swimming uses your upper body and core, which contributes to the calorie burn and overall workout perks.
- Rock climbing: With rock climbing, you have to use your large muscle groups to hoist yourself up and small muscle groups to stabilize yourself. It’s a low-impact activity that requires slow, controlled movements and also boasts fantastic scenery if you climb outdoors.
- Elliptical: If you like running but not the added pressure on your joints, you might consider training on an elliptical — a stationery exercise machine that simulates stair climbing, walking and running. It offers many of the same advantages as running, but without the impact.
- Rowing: If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that hits both your upper and lower body, rowing is a solid bet. It’s safe, effective and appropriate for people of all ages and fitness levels.
- Ballroom dancing: Ballroom dancing requires you to keep at least one foot on the ground at all times, so it’s gentle on the body. And partner dancing contains a built-in social bonus. Twists, dips and twirls also help strengthen core muscles and improve balance.
- Cycling: Even if spin class is not for you, a leisurely ride on your bicycle is a great way to burn calories without putting too much pressure on your joints. Bike to work and you can squeeze in exercise during your commute.
- Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing burns more calories than walking, even when the pace for both activities is the same. It also works your quads, hamstrings and calves. Want to work your upper body, too? Just add poles.
- Yoga: Yoga is a low-impact activity that trains your body and your mind. Regular practice can strengthen your core muscles and reduce low back pain. It can also prompt your body to release feel-good endorphins.
- Strength training: Strength training helps you build muscle so that you can burn more calories, even when you’re at rest. It’s easy on the joints and you can use your own body for resistance, so you don’t have to invest in expensive gym equipment.
- Golf: Golf is only an effective low-impact workout if you walk the course. The swing requires controlling and strengthening core muscles and the social aspect will keep you moving for hours.
- Tai chi: Tai chi ch’uan, often shortened to tai chi, is a centuries-old mind-body practice that involves slow, coordinated movements coupled with breathing exercises. While the practice may not burn a ton of calories, it has tremendous therapeutic effects, including increased muscle tone, enhanced balance and reduced risk of stress, depression and anxiety.
A Balanced Exercise Regimen
The best activities for health and fitness are the ones you’ll actually do. Whether you choose high-, low- or no-impact workouts, the key is to find something you like to do and stick with it.
“If you don’t like walking, try ballroom dancing or water aerobics,” Weir suggests. “There are a variety of activities that can provide a solid workout with little – or no –impact on your joints.”
Still committed to high-impact activities? Consider folding in low- and no-impact exercise during the week to give your muscles, joints and tendons a break. “You’re working different muscle groups, so you prevent wear and tear on the same muscle,” Weir says. “As with anything, moderation is key. Be smart, be patient and listen to your body.”
No matter which sport or activity you choose, make sure to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
To make an appointment with an athletic trainer or to find a primary care doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Kelly Weir, AT, ATC, CSCS, PES, HGP-I, is an athletic trainer and works with patients at Henry Ford Rehabilitation - Columbus Rehab & Athletic Medicine in Novi as part of the specialized sports rehabilitation team and assists our sports medicine physicians with patient care at Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus.