Stay fit and active with low-impact exercise

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Stay fit and active with low-impact exercise

An important part of overall wellness is staying active with regular exercise. But if you’re just getting started, recovering from an injury or dealing with the effects of aging, intense, high-impact movements may not be for you.  And that’s okay.  Not everyone can handle the force and strain running for miles places on their joints or have the strength and endurance for lifting heavy weights.

This is why low-impact moves can be suitable for everyone in keeping physically fit.  Before you equate low-impact exercise with your grandmother’s workout, take a second look. Low-impact exercise is more popular than ever thanks to an explosion in group fitness classes and new workout formats.  Not only can the majority of us perform low impact exercise but they can be a very effective workout for those unable to perform more challenging high impact moves.  Many people have concerns of engaging in high impact forms of exercise often due to the impact on the joints, especially the spine, hips, knees, and ankles. 

Plus the intensity and endurance required in high-impact exercise may not be suitable for everyone depending on their level of fitness.  Low-impact exercise can be a more viable and realistic method of achieving and maintaining a degree of fitness for those unable to do high impact workouts.

The difference between low-impact and high-impact exercise

Low-impact exercise is where one or both feet are on the floor at all times, reducing the stress on the musculoskeletal system. The lower impact makes it ideal for anyone who is a novice at fitness or for people with physical limitations and injuries.  Just because it is “low-impact” does not mean it is less effective.  Even though low-impact workouts tend to burn fewer calories than high impact, they can still be challenging leading to improved strength, mobility, balance and flexibility.  Examples of low-impact exercise include walking, Tai Chi, elliptical, hiking, gardening, chair exercises or water aerobics.

High-impact exercise is any kind of strenuous cardiovascular routine where both feet may be off the ground at the same time.  This form of workout will burn more calories but the chance for injury during the session or over time is higher than low-impact workouts.  Individuals who are advanced exercisers are better-suited for exercise of this caliber.  Examples of high-impact exercise include running, jogging, biking, dancing, jumping rope or high intensity interval training.

Making the most of low-impact exercise

Health and fitness benefits can certainly be gained from low-impact exercise, but to really make them effective, there are certain things one must do when performing them.  Even though you may not be able to exercise at a high-impact level, here are some ideas on how get the most bang for your exercise efforts depending on what type of workout you choose:

·      Walking

·      Walk faster than or as fast as you can in order to get your heart rate up and to burn more calories.  Picking up the pace intensifies your workout. 

·      Try low-impact interval training.  Add in short bursts of speed or walk up a steep hill or incline to your walking workouts. 

·      Pump your arms while walking.  If walking on a treadmill and if you can, do not hold onto the rail swinging your arms to keep up the intensity.  If walking outside, swing your arms in a more exaggerated fashion to give them a good workout and to burn more calories.  Holding weights while walking is a no-no.  Walking with a walking pole is another excellent form of walking with great benefits. 

·      Hiking

Hiking outdoors is a fantastic workout for someone wanting to stay low impact.  Choose terrain that is suitable for you that provides a challenge yet is still safe.  The changing terrain can be a great way to work the large muscle groups in the lower body of the glutes, hips, and thighs.  Again, a walking pole is an ideal exercise tool to consider if hiking is your go-to low-impact workout. 

·      Climb stairs

For an incredibly intense workout, walk up a flight of stairs.  This is one of the best ways to get your heart rate up and to work muscles in the legs and hips.  Go at your own pace to what feels comfortable for you.

·      Step aerobics

Step aerobics is where a person is stepping onto an elevated platform while keeping at least one foot on the ground and with no jumping involved.   To add more intensity, pump your arms while stepping up onto the platform.

·      Water aerobics

A water workout will be one of the most therapeutic and invigorating activities you can do for physical fitness.  It’s perfect for increasing strength, flexibility, and endurance while reducing stress on joints making it an ideal form of a low impact exercise.

Other hints on adding intensity to a low-impact workout:

·      Anytime you can add in upper body moves, do so.  This will contribute to the overall intensity so swing your arms when you walk, raise arms overhead during step or other types of aerobics or choose machines at the gym with upper body options like a cross-country machine or elliptical trainer.

·      To make a low-impact workout a little more challenging, pick up the pace whether you are walking, cycling or whatever form of low impact exercise you do. 

·      Another way to work in intensity to a workout is to use big, exaggerated movements.  For example, if marching in place, make the move harder by bringing the knees up high and circling the arms overhead.

Not sure how to begin a low-impact workout?  Here is a link to a fat burning low impact cardio workout that is challenging by getting your heart going without any jumping yet safe enough for most beginners.