We are spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting fitness exercises. Low impact movements ranging from yoga to running, or swimming to cycling all provide benefits for getting into shape and improving cardiovascular fitness. With that, the amount of impact on your body can significantly vary depending on the movement you choose, “impact” being the amount of contact and force you exert on your bones and joints during physical activity.
Any movement is considered low impact if the motion is gentle on the body’s joints and can be performed in a fluid motion. Low impact exercises are very accessible to people of all fitness levels. They are ideal for those that are injured, recovering, or want to avoid putting their body through stress, those who prefer to go easier on their joints, and others that are returning to exercise after a long period and can be used for those who struggle with mobility and balance. Low impact movement may include exercises that do not involve putting a lot of strain on your muscles and joints which include swimming, walking, yoga, cycling, and pilates. Swimming and other aqua classes use the support of water to reduce impact. During cycling, you are not striking the pavement or treadmill which in turn reduces the force going through the body. Beyond these examples, other low impact exercises like yoga, pilates, and balance focus on breathing, stretching, and flexibility, as opposed to rapid high impact movements which focus on achieving specific training goals.
Don’t let the name fool you – low impact movement can be every bit beneficial as high impact movement. Low impact exercise comes with benefits of improved strength, lower blood pressure, reduced stress, and such movement reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury. If you are injured or recovering and are trying to stay off a particular joint, muscle, or bone that has been troublesome in the past, it is beneficial to keep to low impact movement as it will help you recover faster. A study shows that five weeks of stressful high impact movements led to significant impairments compared to low impact controls. Furthermore, the same study proved that after ten months, low impact movement significantly improved muscle retention compared to high impact. Using the treadmill or other exercises that cause sore joints may mean you are putting too much stress on your body. To reduce pain and prevent future injury, you should pepper in more low impact exercises to give your body a break. Low impact workouts often focus more on strength, stretching, balance, and alignment than they do burning calories and building muscle. With that being said, low impact movements are beneficial for improving stability and alignment.
You can still increase your heart rate without exerting your body through high impact movements. Research demonstrates that low impact moves increase your heart rate similar to high impact moves while also building overall strength. Adding low impact to your routine allows the volume of your training to increase while strengthening your cardiovascular system without the pounding stress but with the increase in heart rate. Because you are working your muscles differently, you are also improving your overall fitness. All together, different movements will allow you to have a strong heart and better overall health.
There are many positive effects and advantages of low impact movement, starting with high calorie burn / weight control. Studies show that low impact workouts can be just as efficient in burning calories as high impact exercises. It is easy to confuse impact with intensity. Impact is how hard you hit the ground, intensity is how difficult an exercise feels. With that, low impact does not mean low intensity. High intensity movements are not limited to high impact workouts. Furthermore, research proves that low impact activities can be tough and burn a ton of calories. Activities like walking, swimming, stair climbing, cycling, rowing, and aerobics are found to deliver an incredible calorie burn similar to running, boxing, and other high impact movements but without the feeling of stress on the body. Low impact movements are therefore found to burn a sufficient amount of calories, similar to the amount burned during high intensity movements.
Many low impact workouts can increase flexibility which helps to reduce stiffness and muscle soreness. With that, movements like yoga, swimming, and pilates, for example, strengthen and stretch your muscles, therefore, improving flexibility. Stretching is when the muscle fibers and tendons are put into a position of lengthening. Current research suggests that stretching improves a person’s range of motion, will reduce muscle tightness, increase muscle length, improve circulation, and reduce pain. With that, the benefits of stretching during low impact movements will lead to better flexibility and therefore better overall wellbeing. It is beneficial to change things up from regular high impact exercises to intense low impact movements every so often. After all, keeping a consistent exercise regimen has many positive benefits on your mental and physical health.
Are you interested in learning more about low impact movement? Check out our Mindful Movement program here.
“A Comparison of Low- and High-Impact Forced Exercise.” Kennard and Woodruff-Pak, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3349001/
“High-Impact and Low-Impact Exercise.” Mana Medical Associates, https://www.mana.md/high-impact-and-low-impact-exercise/
“Living Healthier Through Low-Impact Exercise.” Apha, September 2018 https://www.thenationshealth.org/content/48/7/16#:~:text=Not%20only%20does%20low%2Dimpact,great%20option%20for%20virtually%20everyone.
“The Positive Effect of Low Impact Exercise On Heart Health.” Waters, 2022 https://www.healthspan.co.uk/advice/the-positive-effect-of-low-impact-exercises-on-heart-health