A well-balanced diet along with meaningful physical activity are integral parts of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Most experts agree that 30 minutes of cardio at least five times per week can lower blood pressure, improve heart and lung function, and even mitigate symptoms of depression. However, as we age certain exercises, like running or burpees, may be out of reach. When you want to maintain a regular cardio routine, consider adding low impact exercises to your repertoire.
What is cardio?
Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is any kind of sustained movement that engages large muscle groups while elevating heart and respiration rates. Generally speaking, when we think of cardio we think of running or jogging, which are popular examples of cardio. But cardio can be any kind of movement that provides enough intensity to condition the heart and lungs and burns calories.
There are two primary types of cardio activity: high impact and low impact cardio. High impact cardio involves exercises where both feet may be off of the ground at any point during the activity, like in jumping jacks, running, or jump roping, and puts stress on joints and bones. Low impact cardio consists of activities that leave one foot on the ground during the exercise, like during yoga, or does not put excessive strain on joints, like while swimming.
Why should you worry about low vs high impact activities
If you are just beginning your cardio journey, it may be tempting to dive right into high impact activities. Many popular workout programs are built around a routine of high impact cardio or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and seem relatively accessible. However, high impact activities come with a great deal of risk for injury — especially for individuals who are less physically fit and are new to cardio exercise.
Orthopedic issues or arthritis can make high impact activities not only challenging but dangerous to joint and bone health. The constant strain and jarring movements of certain types of high impact exercise can exacerbate existing conditions. High impact cardio can also be more dangerous to your heart health. A recent study found that excessive high impact cardio can increase the risk of developing arterial plaque buildup, compared to those who engaged in lower impact cardio.
Low impact option: swimming
Swimming is a wonderful, low impact cardio exercise that provides a full-body workout while keeping the impact on the joints to a minimum. The health benefits of swimming have been well documented. Swimming engages not just the lower body but also the upper body, and the buoyancy of water provides support for the joints.
How many calories you will burn while swimming and the quality of the workout will depend on the type of stroke you are using and the intensity of the activity. Butterfly and crawl strokes tend to burn more calories than backstroke. A more leisurely swim will not provide the same benefits as a sustained relatively vigorous swim. However, any time spent in the water will allow you to experience the health benefits of swimming.
Low impact option: cycling
Cycling provides many of the benefits of high impact cardio while eliminating many of the risks to the bones and joints. Cycling helps build muscle, improves heart and lung health, and burns between 400 and 1000 calories per ride, depending on the intensity of the cycle session and rider weight.
Cycling can also easily be added to a daily routine. If you live within cycling distance of work, you can change a daily commute to a daily ride. But if riding a bike to work isn’t feasible, considering hitting the stationary bikes at the gym. Stationary bike riding provides many of the same benefits as traditional cycling while avoiding inclement weather and road hazards.
Low impact option: yoga
Flow yoga can be an excellent choice for individuals who want not only the meditative benefits of yoga but also want a safe low impact cardio routine. Sun salutations stretch the body and get the heart and lungs working, especially when performed in continuous movement. Consider adding yoga to your low impact cardio routine for a mind and body workout.
If you are worried that exercise may not be for you due to preexisting conditions, you may be surprised to find out how accessible low impact exercise can be. Low impact cardio exercise provides many of the same benefits of high impact cardio exercise while minimizing the risk of injury. By engaging in just 30 minutes of low impact cardio a day, you can drastically improve your physical and mental health.