Health/Fitness :: Fitness

The Best Low Impact Workouts

by Kent McGroarty
Contributor
Thursday Feb 16, 2012
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While low impact workouts used to be thought of as light and simple workouts mainly associated with the senior citizen crowd, most workouts of this kind can easily get the heart rate into the target heart rate zone. A little more work may be required for some low impact workouts, but they are just as capable of whipping the body into great shape without the potential injuries high impact workouts can present. So which low impact workouts are most commonly recommended by health experts?

Low impact workouts are defined as those where one foot is always touching the ground. Exercises where both feet leave the ground at the same time with the entire weight landing on the feet at once are defined as high impact. Examples of high impact workouts include jumping rope, running, and some types of aerobic dancing. Low impact workouts are generally for those who cannot perform high intensity workouts for whatever reason, or are simply uninterested in such workouts. Reasons for steering clear of high impact workouts include pregnancy, connective tissue injuries, osteoporosis, bone or joint injuries, being overweight or an exercise newbie, or chronic problems such as arthritis and stress fractures.

One of the most highly-regarded low impact workouts is walking. Besides there being no cost involved, walking can be done just about anywhere by just about anyone. If you are a beginner, consider walking on a treadmill, which is an even lower impact workout than walking outside and allows you to control speed and incline. Walking burns calories and also tones the thighs and calves. There is also evidence that walking burns more fat than running as walking allows the body’s metabolism to switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat. Walking is easily altered depending on your needs-for example those with knee, hip, or ankle problems who would rather avoid inclines can walk on flat surfaces or make up for a lack of inclines by walking faster. Walk at least 30 minutes a day to get in a great workout, and alter your speed and route whenever possible. Use lightweight dumbbells to work the arms if desired.

Swimming is a low impact workout that exercises the entire body. It tones the muscles and provides cardiovascular benefits. It has also proven to increase muscle mass and flexibility, and helps treat arthritis and similar conditions. Swimming uses many muscles at the same time, making it an excellent calorie-burning workout. It burns calories at a rate of about three calories per mile per pound of body weight. In addition to working the lungs, muscles, and burning calories, swimming is considered an extremely relaxing form of exercise as you get to float and glide through the water. Water walking and pool aerobics are alternatives for those who would rather not swim, while using swimming accessories such as kickboards and water webs increases resistance and therefore muscle tone. Swimming is an ideal form of exercise for those with weight issues because the body is lighter in water, and therefore the effects of gravity are not nearly so harsh.

Bike riding is one of the most popular forms of low impact exercise as it reaps numerous physical and mental health benefits. It decreases your risk of coronary heart disease and improves overall cardiovascular health. Bike riding tones and builds the muscles, especially the calves, thighs, and butt, boosts metabolism and burns calories, improves coordination, helps strengthen the immune system, and has also been linked with improved mental health and a longer lifespan. Just remember to always wear a helmet and always be aware of vehicles if biking through a city.

Dancing has to be one of the most fun low impact workouts there is! It strengthens the muscles by forcing them to resist body weight, and provides a great cardio workout from all that moving around. It’s also a social activity, meaning it can help build confidence and social skills through relationships with other dancers in a dance class. As with just about all types of exercise, more vigorous forms of dancing, such as ballroom dancing, also help build endurance, which allows the body to work harder for longer without tiring. Try any dance that gets your heart rate going, such as line or square dancing, ballroom dancing, or Zumba, the "fitness meets dance party" workout that includes salsa, meringue, flamenco, and samba moves.

Yoga is another fantastic low impact workout that benefits the mind as well as the body. Though yoga used to be considered a less intense cardio workout than other forms of exercise because the heart rate is not elevated for long periods of time, new research has indicated that good cardio workouts do not have to be all about endurance. "Burst training," or short bursts of cardio training, works just as well as endurance-based cardio workouts and can burn fat for longer after the workout is completed. In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, yoga poses strengthen the muscles and also increase muscle flexibility. Yoga has also proved time and time again to provide great health benefits. Regular yoga practitioners swear by the stress-busting mental calm yoga provides due to intense concentration on poses and on how the body is moving. It also helps improve breathing, the meditative benefits of which also result in a serene mental state. Check out different forms of yoga, such as Bikram yoga, where the room is heated to help you sweat out toxins, or Vinyasa yoga, which focuses on "breath-synchronized movement."

Remember that the best low impact workouts are those that exercise the entire body. What more could you want from an exercise routine?

Kent McGroarty is a freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to EDGE’S Style, Travel, Health, and Fitness channels. Contact her at kentmcgroarty@yahoo.com.

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