The best low-impact cardio workouts let you work your entire body without creating repetitive stress on your joints and muscles that can lead to injury. Low-impact doesn’t mean no-impact, giving you more choices than you might think for healthy cardio routines. Even non-impact workouts can cause stress, so use a variety of low-impact workouts to help you build muscle, burn calories and improve your heart health as you work toward your fitness goals.
Exercise is either non-, low- or high-impact. If both feet leave the ground at once during an exercise, with your body’s entire weight landing on one or both feet at once, the exercise is high-impact. Running, jumping rope and some forms of aerobic dancing are high-impact. If at least one-foot is in contact with the ground or a platform at all times, the activity is low-impact. Walking, skating and step aerobics are examples of low-impact activities. Swimming, cycling, rowing and using an elliptical are non-impact activities.
The best low-impact workouts exercise your entire body. While using an exercise bike or power walking can raise your heart rate to your aerobic threshold, they only work your legs. If you use an exercise bike or power walk, use dumbbells to work your arms as you exercise. Stand on the pedals of an exercise bike to vary your muscle use. Use high and low gear settings to raise your heart rate in different ways. Walk up and down hills or stairs to engage your quads, calves and hamstrings.
Swimming is a good full-body, low-impact cardio workout. A rowing machine has no impact and makes you use all of your muscles. Using a home gym with less weight or resistance is a great way to create full-body, no-impact cardio workouts. Step aerobics, which requires you to step up and down during workouts, is another good low-impact choice. An elliptical with arm poles offers a full-body, non-impact cardio workout.
Start with five minutes of warmup. Get your muscles warm by gradually increasing your heart rate andthe blood flowing to your muscles. Never start a cardio workout at full speed.
Begin pedaling, rowing, swimming or moving at a pace you can sustain for the duration of your workout. Talk every few minutes to make sure you don’t leave your aerobic target heart rate range. If you can’t talk, slow down. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, if you can. If you can’t last for 30 minutes, don’t worry, the American Heart Association states that three, 10-minutes workouts each day provide the same benefit as one 30-minute workout (American Heart Association Guidelines, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/American-Heart-Association-Guidelines_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.Tv36U82S49Q).
Add sprints to your cardio workouts by adding 30- to 60-second bursts of higher-intensity exercise every five or 10 minutes. This will improve your cardio stamina and burn more calories.
Finish each workout with a five-minute cooldown. Decrease the pace of your movements until you have stopped breathing hard and your heart rate is close to normal. Finish with a good stretch of your muscles.
Don’t use the exact same workout every time you exercise. Your body will adapt to the movements, and you will see fewer results. You may also cause repetitive stress on muscles and joints.