What Is Low-Impact Exercise?
If you’re new to the workout scene, nursing an injury, or returning to the gym after a break from exercise, don’t overlook the importance of low-impact exercises. Low-impact workouts can be a key part of almost any schedule and play a role in achieving all kinds of fitness goals.
Low-impact exercises put little to no pressure on your joints, but don’t let that fool you. There are such things as low-impact, high-intensity exercises, and these sessions can get your heart pumping and sweat brewing. Since they aim to reduce the stress on your joints, low-impact workouts challenge the body with less risk of injury.
If weight loss is part of your health journey, low-impact sweat sessions can be integral to your workout routine. This article will review the science behind low-impact exercises and some of the best low-impact exercises for weight loss at home or at the gym.
Low-Impact Exercise vs. High-Impact Workouts
High and low-impact exercises are both used to reach specific training goals, and both can be essential components to our overall fitness. Plus, they can each help support the other. Understanding your needs and goals can help you design a training program that sets you up for success.
So, what are low-impact exercises? Low-impact exercise generally includes anything that’s easy on your joints and fluid in motion. Some of the most common types of low-impact training include walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga. Low-impact exercise can also serve as active recovery days or help your body safely work through a recovering injury.
High-impact exercises, like running, plyometrics, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), put more stress on your joints and can put you at a higher risk of injury. High-impact training can be an effective training method, but if you’re not sure where to start, consider consulting a certified personal trainer to help you safely incorporate high-impact movements into your workouts.
How Can Low-Impact Exercise Aid in Weight Loss?
Generally speaking, any exercise can help you lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle. However, low-impact exercises offer specific health benefits, especially regarding weight loss efforts. In fact, some of the best exercises for fat-burning are low-impact movements.
Hormonal Imbalances and Issues
Several different factors can influence our hormone balance. Where exercise is concerned, overtraining can affect your immune system and cause your body to release stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine. Hormonal imbalances can lead to fatigue, irritability, and difficulty with weight maintenance. Many people rely on low-impact exercises as a form of active recovery to get their heart pumping without triggering stress hormones.¹
Engaging in regular exercise has been proven to help support our mental health, especially surrounding depression and anxiety.² A study published in 2018 showed participants who exercised had 43.2% fewer poor mental health days over the past month compared to those who did not exercise.⁷
Low-impact exercises help promote a consistent workout schedule and allow us to exercise without taxing our minds. For example, cardio exercises such as power walking, cycling, and using an elliptical or rowing machine all give you a chance to “clear your mind” while elevating your heart rate.
Staying active during pregnancy is helpful for both mom and baby, but certain changes are needed to ensure your workouts are safe. Low-impact exercises can be a great way to build strength and log your cardio workouts while growing a baby.
If you’re rehabilitating an injury, low-impact exercises can be influential in gaining strength without the risk of re-injury. Finding a safe way to exercise can even reduce pain and improve functional limitations, as well as help reduce inflammation around the damaged tissues.³
Low-impact exercise has been shown to help manage blood sugar levels, an especially significant health benefit for those with diabetes. Exercise enhances our skeletal muscle’s glucose uptake as well as our insulin sensitivity and glucose disposal.⁴
One of the most significant benefits of low-impact exercises is that they are much easier on your joints compared to high-impact exercises. So while walking may not burn calories as quickly as burpees do, you can likely sustain the activity for a longer period of time without increasing joint pain.
Lower-impact exercise also allows you to train more consistently and frequently without the need for lengthy recovery between workouts. Even if you don’t have pre-existing joint pain, low-impact movements can help reduce wear and tear on your joints to keep them healthy for the long run.
Low-impact workouts, paired with well-balanced nutrition, can help support weight loss and building lean muscle. Since skeletal muscle is metabolically active, they continue to burn energy long after your workout is finished through a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Generally speaking, the higher the intensity of your workout, the longer the potential for EPOC effects.⁶
8 Low-Impact Cardio and Strength Exercises for Weight Loss
Low-impact training comes in many forms, but we’ve listed a few of our favorites below that are sure to get your heart rate going without stressing your joints. You might even decide to mix and match a few for your next round of workouts!
Walking is a low-impact exercise suitable for all fitness levels. Whether you’re outside or on a treadmill, make it your own by adjusting your speed and incline.
When it comes to low-impact exercise, swimming is about as low as it gets. The water’s resistance gives you a total body workout with almost zero impact on your joints. Not to mention, it’s a pretty fun way to burn calories!
Whether you take a spin around the neighborhood or hop on a stationary bike, cycling can be a great low-impact cardio workout. Cycling at a moderate pace helps improve aerobic capacity and endurance. Plus, it can be an excellent tool for fat loss and muscle building.
4. Strength training
Resistance movements using dumbbells, resistance bands, strength training machines, and even just our own body weight are low-impact by nature. The key is to stay clear of moves that require jumping or catching heavy equipment. Building muscle is essential to our overall health. For example, lower-body exercises such as squats, lunges, and glute bridges put less pressure on your joints than exercises such as box jumps, burpees, and jumping jacks.
Yoga is a staple low-impact workout for many, and for a good reason. It’s a total body workout and a fantastic way to recharge the mind. It can strengthen the entire body, and contrary to what some might think, yoga can even elevate your heart rate. There are several different types of yoga, so there’s a yoga class for everyone.
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that focuses on strengthening your core. Many people include pilates in their training schedule to help improve their posture and flexibility, which can be helpful in their other workouts and their day-to-day lives.
With its pilates and ballet-inspired moves, barre classes have caught the attention of many. It gives you the opportunity to improve your strength, agility, and flexibility without taxing the joints.
8. Elliptical and Stair-Climber
Elliptical machines and stair climbers have been staple pieces of cardio equipment for years. They are excellent machines for lower body and cardio work, and as long as you avoid doing high-intensity sprints, they are excellent choices for a low-impact workout.
How to Monitor Glucose Levels When Exercising
Exercise can be an integral part of managing blood glucose levels. It can help lower your blood sugar, support weight management, reduce the risk of heart disease, and boost overall wellness. Still, even with these health benefits, you must take measures to work out safely with diabetes.
It’s important to track your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercising (unless directed otherwise by your doctor) to understand how your body responds to physical activity and avoid any potentially dangerous blood sugar fluctuations.
General guidelines suggest a blood sugar that falls between 100 and 250 mg/dL is safe for most people before starting their workout. Anything outside of those ranges indicates a need for adjustment.
Low blood sugar can be a concern during your workout as your body burns energy. If you feel weak, shaky, or dizzy, stop your workout and take a break. If you can, test your blood sugar. According to the American Diabetes Association, if it reads 100 mg/dL or lower, stop exercising and eat or drink something (approximately 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate) to bring your blood sugar back up. Recheck your blood sugar 15 minutes later, and if it’s still low, eat another 15 grams of carbohydrates.⁵
You will also want to check your blood sugar after you finish your workout, as exercise draws on the sugar stored in your muscles and liver. You may even want to test your blood sugar several times within the first few hours after your workout, as your body can take sugar from your blood to rebuild those stores.
If you have questions about testing your blood sugar or what specific levels are best for you, speak with your doctor to design a plan of care that fits your individualized needs.
Sweat It Out While Monitoring Your Health
Our glucose levels affect many aspects of our health, but continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) hasn't been accessible for most people outside diabetes management. Now, with the Signos CGM kit, people have access to real-time data related to their blood glucose levels.
With continuous glucose tracking, we can see how our meals and workouts affect our blood sugar, giving us the knowledge we need to better fuel our bodies with our overall health in mind. If weight loss is part of your health journey, understanding how your body responds to certain foods and exercises helps you optimize your training and nutrition.
Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Topics discussed in this article:
- Sreenath S. Exercise and immune system. International Journal of Physical Education, Sports, and Health. 2017; 4(1): 200-202.
- Smith, P. J., & Merwin, R. M. (2021). The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review. Annual review of medicine, 72, 45–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943
- Quentin, C., Bagheri, R., Ugbolue, U. C., Coudeyre, E., Pélissier, C., Descatha, A., Menini, T., Bouillon-Minois, J. B., & Dutheil, F. (2021). Effect of Home Exercise Training in Patients with Nonspecific Low-Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(16), 8430. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168430
- Kirwan, J. P., Sacks, J., & Nieuwoudt, S. (2017). The essential role of exercise in the management of type 2 diabetes. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine, 84(7 Suppl 1), S15. https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.84.s1.03
- Blood sugar and exercise. Blood Sugar and Exercise | ADA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/getting-started-safely/blood-glucose-and-exercise
- Borsheim, Elisabet & Bahr, Roald. (2003). Effect of Exercise Intensity, Duration and Mode on Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 33. 1037-60. 10.2165/00007256-200333140-00002.
- Chekroud, S. R., Gueorguieva, R., Zheutlin, A. B., Paulus, M., Krumholz, H. M., Krystal, J. H., & Chekroud, A. M. (2018, August 8). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: A cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S221503661830227X