Top 10 Effective, Low-Impact Exercises

Oct 31, 2016 //

We’re constantly being told of the merits of CrossFit, HIIT workouts, sprinting and weightlifting. But what about low-impact exercises that still deliver results?

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Though it’s true that high-impact physical exertion gives us the most bone-and-muscle building benefits, there are merits to low-impact exercise as well, especially for those who suffer from injuries.

Here are 10 effective low-impact exercises that really do a body good.

1. Walking

Walking is one of the most basic forms of exercise, because it can be done anywhere, anytime, by almost anyone. A recent study published in the journal European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that a walking fitness program is safe for people suffering with back issues, such as chronic low-back pain. Furthermore, these patients actually walked faster than the control group, with no significant changes in back pain. Aim to walk at least 30 minutes a day, whether it’s to and from the office or taking the dog for a leisurely stroll. Amp up your speed or choose hilly trails to increase effectiveness.

2. Cycling

Biking eliminates the repetitive pounding of foot to pavement that occurs in high-impact exercises like running, and is considered to be an excellent form of low-impact cardio. But did you know there are other, strength-benefits to cycling as well? A study from the European Journal of Sport Science, which documented the muscle strength, size and bone impact of mountain biking and road cycling found that biking increases bone density and even upper body strength.

3. Rowing

The fit-savvy communities are buzzing over this recent and famously challenging form of exercise. Although you’re not pounding the pavement or doing plyometrics in a studio, you’ll see results – fast. A pilot study published in the medical journal Spinal Cord found huge benefits for those with spinal cord injuries when they followed a six-week rowing program. Twelve subjects worked out for about 45 minutes, five days a week, on a rowing machine, while the researchers tracked oxygen consumption, body mass index, percent body fat, waist circumference, shoulder abduction, shoulder flexion and extension, and elbow flexion and extension. The results: significant decrease in body fat percentage, and increased lean body mass and muscle strength in shoulders and arms. Again, for any injuries, especially back and neck issues, check with doc first before you begin.

4. Tai Chi

Tai chi, a slow form of martial arts, isn’t just good for the body – it’s good for the mind, too. A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the mindfulness needed for this form of exercise could be helpful for other mental tasks, and even be a good thing for those with ADHD. Researchers call it a “mind-body connection” and “mindful movement” with tai chi, in that the sport can help with paying attention, cognitive control, mind wandering, mindfulness and skill development. That’s something to think about.

5. Swimming

Swimming is one of those great, full-body forms of exercise that combines cardio and muscle building without a lot of impact. According to a study from Micron, swimming can help build up bones when combined with risedronate (a medication used for osteoporosis), making swimming one of the few low-impact exercises that helps strong bones.

6. Golf

The sport of golf is changing. It’s not just for older, white gentlemen wearing argyle pants anymore. Men, women and children of all races are all playing at competitive levels. And a recent study from Sports Medicine found that golfers are a pretty fit bunch.

7. Balance Training

One-legged squats, bosu balls and yoga are all forms of low-impact exercise, and’s athletic skill required to pull these exercises off. But it’s worth it, according to a BMJ study of more than 700 senior-aged women. Within two years of the study, balance training reduced the rate of falls and injury.

8. Pilates

Women often pick up Pilates to tone their tummies and sculpt long lean legs, but that’s not all Pilates is good for. Not only does Pilates encourage improved knees function, but it also supports better posture. Take a Pilates class and stand tall knowing that you’re doing your entire body a favor.

9. Yoga

You don’t need to be a yogi to know that yoga improves flexibility, but a study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that yoga also helps keep the mind sharp. The review paper found that yoga helped improve cognition, especially memory, in addition to mental processing and attention.

10. Dancing

You might think Pilates is the best physical therapy for incontinence. Dancing, though, can also help. According to a research study in Games for Health Journal, when 23 women (mean age of 70) with urination control issues used dancing video games over a 12-week period, they enjoyed improvements. It also helps with gait and cognition. Plus, it’s extremely enjoyable!