These days, we all seem to know how significant regular physical activity is for our health. Sometimes, however, “harder” isn’t necessarily always “better” when it comes to exercise.
Let’s think about it: if you continuously exercise at a high intensity while performing high-impact activities like running, jumping, plyometrics, skipping rope, or heavy weightlifting, then your body may not have sufficient time to recover, and you could be putting yourself at an increased risk of injury.
This is where low-impact exercise saves the day.
Low-impact exercise is any type of physical activity that doesn’t put a lot of forceful jarring movements and stresses on the joints while still allowing you to raise your heart rate, increase circulation, and stimulate your muscles.
What are the Benefits of Low-Impact Exercise?
1. Low-impact exercise supports heart health.
Your heart is a muscle, and just like strengthening your biceps or glutes, exercise can strengthen your heart, too.
This makes it more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body, stimulates the growth of new blood vessels, and lowers your risk of high blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, just 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other types of cardiovascular disease.
2. It minimizes chronic aches and discomfort.
When you think of “low-impact exercise,” less physical weight and force probably come to mind. While low-impact exercise is characterized in those terms, it also stimulates the release of natural analgesic “feel good” hormones,
Yep, you don’t need to lift heavy barbells, sprint, and throw medicine balls to achieve the benefit of endorphins!
With better circulation due to improved heart health, endorphins can be transported throughout the body, helping joints to be less stiff.
3. Low-impact exercise is a safe way to manage your weight.
Low-impact exercises often fall into the category of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is a great way to burn calories at a steady pace, which can help you lose excess body fat and maintain lean muscle (especially when good nutritional habits are taking place, too).
Managing your weight becomes increasingly important when you’re dealing with conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and high blood pressure.
4. It may reduce your risk for certain types of chronic health diseases.
Many different variables factor in chronic health diseases: controllable and non-controllable.
Some examples of controllable factors include your diet and other lifestyle choices that you can choose or not choose to do. Your genetics, family history, and exposure to pollution on a larger scale are non-controllable factors.
Exercise, of course, is a controllable factor and decades of research strongly suggest that it can prevent or minimize the incidence and impact of a variety of conditions (some of which we’ve already touched on), including:
- Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and other neurological disorders
- Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke
- Age-related debility or frailty among elders (which is associated with co-morbid conditions such as osteopenia, pneumonia, and falling events)
- Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and other types of bone and joint conditions
It should be noted that many of the benefits of low-impact exercise can be extended to the benefits of exercise in general.
Low-impact exercise, in particular, is generally safer and more appropriate for a broader population of people, especially those with the chronic health conditions above.
5. It generally reduces the risk of orthopedic injuries when compared to high-impact exercise.
While any kind of physical activity does come with some type of risk for injury, low-impact exercise is much gentler on the joints.
This means you’ll probably be less likely to sustain many of the injuries commonly experienced during high-impact activities, including tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and muscle strains.
In general, low-impact physical activity is also safer for specific populations of people who may be more at risk for exercise-related complications, including the elderly, people who are obese, pregnant women, and people who are beginners to exercise.
Low-impact exercise is important for regular exercisers, too. They often call it, “active recovery.” Overuse injuries and conditions can occur if your not careful to vary your movements and activities. Low-impact exercises is a great way to maintain joint mobility while still achieving the cardiovascular and muscular benefits of exercise.
How Much and How Often?
According to the American Cancer Society, the typical American adult should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
This is as simple to do as going for a brisk 30-minute walk Monday through Friday!
Simple Ways to Get More Low-Impact Exercise in Everyday Life
Other examples of low-impact exercises include yoga, swimming, cycling, stair climbing on a step mill, and low- to moderate-intensity resistance training.
Even taking the stairs, parking further away from your office building, and standing and walking more throughout your workday are beneficial ways to introduce more low-impact physical activity into your daily routine.
The main takeaway is that while high-intensity or anaerobic exercise is beneficial, no fitness routine would be complete without some sort of low-impact aerobic exercise.
Two things to remember:
- “low-impact” doesn’t necessarily mean easy or boring—the key is to find activities you love and make it a part of your regular lifestyle
- “low impact” doesn’t necessarily equal “no risk”
Consult with your doctor before starting or changing up any exercise routine, especially if you’re older or have any chronic health issues.