7 Low-Impact Exercises for All Fitness Levels

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If you are looking to get in shape, improve your fitness level, or simply enjoy the many benefits of working out, then low-impact exercise may be just the thing for you. Low-impact exercise is a great option for people who cannot tolerate high-impact exercise or who are looking for a gentle way to get exercise benefits without placing too much stress on their muscles, tendons, and joints.

This article looks at what low-impact exercise is and how it can be beneficial to people of all ages. Examples of low-impact exercises that you can try are also explained.

Two women fitness walking exercise

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What Is Considered Low-Impact Exercise?

Low-impact exercise is when movement occurs in your body without the slamming, jumping, and jarring that occurs with other, more intense forms of exercise. Basically, low-impact means just that. There will be very little or no impact on your joints. One or both feet will always be in contact with the ground f or standing exercises, or if you are sitting or swimming, no jarring or impact will occur anywhere in the body.

Working out in a gentle manner can have several benefits while still providing you with a great workout. Your heart rate can be elevated, providing cardiovascular and aerobic benefits. Your muscles and joints can also be gently challenged, improving strength and mobility. And if you're injured or have a condition that requires you to protect your joints and tendons, low-impact exercise may be just the thing to keep you moving as you recover.

Benefits

There are several benefits to low-impact exercise. These may include:

  • Easy start-up for beginners
  • Decreased risk of injury to joints and tendons
  • Improved balance and mobility
  • Less recovery time after exercise
  • Optimal for fat burning
  • May be performed after injury to maintain fitness level as you heal
  • Easy to do for most people, making it great for group workouts

While high-intensity, interval training-type workouts are popular these days, you can still get great benefits—with less risk of injury—with low-impact exercises.

Are There Risks?

There are really no risks to performing low-impact exercise, although if you are an advanced exerciser, low-impact workouts may not be intense enough to challenge your heart, lungs, joints, and muscles to provide enough benefit to improve your fitness level.

Types of Low-Impact Exercise

There are several different types of low-impact exercises. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and not every exercise is appropriate for your specific situation. You should check in with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program to ensure it is safe for you to do.

The best low-impact exercise program for you is one that is fun, a bit challenging, and makes you feel like you've accomplished something when you are done.

Walking

The difference between walking and running is that there is no flight phase while walking—at least one foot is always in contact with the ground while walking. This creates a situation in which there is minimal impact, saving your joints from the risk of overstress and injury.

Still, walking can be a great workout, improving endurance and aerobic capacity and burning calories. Therefore, it is a great low-impact choice for people looking to lose weight.

And one of the best benefits of walking is that you can chat with a friend as you walk, so it's a great way to socialize as you exercise.

Swimming

Not only is swimming low impact, but it can also be considered a no-impact exercise. Your body does not come in contact with any hard surface while swimming, and you should feel no impact as you glide through the water. And while swimming can feel easy, it is an excellent workout for improving core strength and cardiorespiratory endurance (heart and lung strength).

If you have had a lower-extremity injury or have severe arthritis, simply walking in a pool is a great way to reduce stress on your joints. The water creates buoyancy, offering you a low-impact option that can still be challenging and fun.

Yoga

Many people see yoga as a great low-impact stretching routine. It is. But yoga also can offer other benefits, including improved balance and improved strength. It can get your heart rate up a bit, offering cardiovascular benefits as well.

Be sure to start slow. Working with a qualified yoga instructor is a good idea to ensure you are performing the poses properly. A good yoga instructor may also be able to help you reduce the risk of injury while performing the poses.

Cycling

Riding a bike, either on the road or in the gym on a stationary cycle, is a great low-impact way to work out. While biking, your hips remain in contact with the seat and your feet with the pedals, eliminating impact. Still, you can challenge your cardiorespiratory system while biking, making it a great choice for weight loss.

Cycling can also be a great low-impact way to improve lower-extremity endurance. It can work your quads, hamstrings, and calves, improving strength in those muscle groups.

Rowing

Using a rowing machine is a great way to improve endurance, lose weight, and enhance upper- and lower body strength. And the great thing about rowing: Your hips remain in contact with the seat the entire time, eliminating impact and sparing your muscles and joints from excessive stress.

Circuit Training

Circuit training is a form of exercise that involves moving from one exercise to the next in a progressive way. It may be done as part of high-intensity training, but low-intensity circuit training also may be done, allowing you the health benefits of exercise without the risk of joint injury.

When performing circuit training, you can choose which exercises to do. You may move from seated rows to body weight squats to crunches. And if you keep moving, you can work different muscle groups while maintaining an elevated heart rate, improving cardiovascular fitness.

Elliptical Machine

The elliptical machine is a great way to mimic a running technique but with no impact on your joints. When using an elliptical, your feet stay in contact with the footrests, allowing you to get a great workout with no impact. Plus, with the right resistance and hill settings on the machine, you can perform high intensity exercise with low impact.

Tips on Getting Started

Before starting any exercise program, it is a good idea to visit your healthcare provider for a physical to ensure your body can handle it. When starting a low-impact exercise program, you should go easy. Give your body time to build up a tolerance to the exercise. Doing too much too soon may be a pathway to injury.

A light warm-up is recommended before engaging in low-impact exercise. Even though some low-impact exercise isn't intense, your body needs a few minutes to warm up. Start by performing a light walk to gradually raise heart rate and light stretches to get your muscles warm.

When first starting out, choose exercises that you enjoy doing, and find a workout buddy to help keep you motivated if you are new to exercise.

How Often Should I Exercise?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. So, try to do a little bit of exercise each day when starting out, and give yourself a day off every second or third day.

Preventing injuries is key when beginning low-impact exercise. Be sure you stop any exercise that causes pain. Visit your healthcare provider if you start to feel nagging pain that limits your ability to move around normally.

Summary

Low-impact exercise is a great way to begin an exercise program if you are a beginner, and it can be essential in helping you improve or maintain your fitness level if you wish to protect your joints due to injury or arthritis. It can also be a safe and effective way to lose weight, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and help you feel energized.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking to lose weight, gain strength, and improve aerobic endurance, then low-impact exercise may be a great option for you. It can allow you to achieve your fitness goals while protecting your joints and muscles from injuries. It is a great option if you are injured and cannot tolerate high-impact exercise, and it can provide you with an enjoyable experience while still getting the benefits of an effective fitness routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I lose weight with low-impact exercise?

    Low-impact exercise allows you to raise your heart rate and burn calories over a long period of time. This can be an excellent way to lose weight.

  • What is the best low-impact exercise machine?

    The elliptical is a great low-impact machine that allows you to perform high-intensity workouts with no impact. Keep in mind that the best low-impact exercise is one that you personally find enjoyable and challenging.

  • Is jogging low impact?

    Jogging requires that both feet leave the ground, creating a flight phase while performing it. And a flight phase in jogging requires that you impact the ground with one foot. Although slow jogging may feel like low-impact, it is really a high-impact exercise.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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