5 Low-Impact Cardio Exercises [To Up Your Workout Game]

May 7, 2022

HIIT has been having a moment for quite a while now, but if you aren't able to engage in strenuous exercise or if it just doesn't work for your personality or lifestyle, there's another option: low-impact cardio.

And, perhaps shockingly, research has shown that it's MORE effective than high-impact exercise for fighting fat and improving your overall fitness!

Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about how—and why—low-impact cardio works and get my top recommended low-impact cardio workouts!


4 Benefits of Low-Impact Cardio

Before we dive into the benefits of engaging in a low-impact workout, let’s first answer this question: “What is low-impact cardio?”

Simply put, low-impact cardio is cardiovascular exercise, meaning it increases your heartrate, but doesn’t place as much pressure or force on your joints as high-impact workouts.

Let’s look at some of the top benefits of this type of exercise.

1. Great for preventing fat accumulation

When we think about trying to prevent weight gain and fat accumulation or trying to burn fat, usually a high-impact exercise such as running comes to mind.

But the truth is that studies have shown something else entirely: Low-impact exercise may actually be more effective for fighting fat and improving fitness than high-impact exercise! [1]

According to a 2017 study, 32 women were randomly assigned to either a high-impact workout group or a low-impact group for 24 weeks. Their findings?

While both groups achieved improved body composition, overall fitness, and cardiovascular health, the low-impact workout was found to be more effective in improving fat-free mass, aerobic fitness, and muscle strength!

2. Easier on your joints

Low-impact cardio is easier on your joints because it puts less stress on them. But did you know it can also help to alleviate joint pain?

According to a 2016 study on 48 sedentary middle-aged and older adults with osteoarthritis, engaging in low-impact cardio exercises such as swimming and cycling for 45 minutes three days a week for 12 weeks significantly reduced joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitations. [2]

Moreover, the participants reported significant increases in quality of life and overall fitness.

3. Reduces stress

Another benefit of engaging in low-impact exercises is that they’re known to help you feel more relaxed and calmer.

In a 2018 study, researchers assigned 90 adults who reported regularly experiencing moderate-to-high stress to one of two groups: practicing 16 consecutive weeks of yoga or being placed on a waitlist for eight week and then practicing yoga for eight consecutive weeks. [3]

At the end of the study period, those who practiced yoga or 16 weeks reported significant reductions in stress and anxiety as well as increases in overall well-being.

Interestingly, those who were waitlisted and then practiced yoga for eight weeks also showed significant decreases in stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia after they began practicing yoga for the eight-week period.

4. Supports healthy blood pressure

If you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, pay special attention to this section! Research has found that low-impact cardio, such as walking, is incredibly beneficial for supporting healthy blood pressure levels.

According to a 2021 meta-analysis of 73 trials including 5,763 people, researchers found that walking for approximately 150 minutes per week (about 20 minutes per day), reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 4.11 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 1.79 mmHg. [4]

Interestingly, the meta-analysis revealed that walking for blood pressure reduction may be slightly more effective in women than in men.

On average, women lowered their systolic blood pressure levels by an average of 5.65 mmHg while men lowered theirs by 4.64 mm Hg.

And the same held true for their diastolic numbers, with women reducing theirs by an average of 2.69 mmHg and men by 2.54 mmHg.

Now that you know some of the benefits, let’s take a look at the specific exercises.


Low-impact cardio - Dr. Pingel


The Top 5 Effective Low-Impact Exercises

There are a variety of low-impact exercises you can choose from—ranging from more general workouts to specific movements. Let’s dive into the most effective low-impact cardio workouts you should be engaging in!

1. Walking

Perhaps the ultimate low-impact cardio workout, walking is something you can pretty much do anywhere and at any time. Plus, it’s highly effective!

According to a 2013 randomized clinical trial, people lost up to 33 percent more weight by walking 20 minutes a day than by remaining sedentary! [5]

But that’s not all. They also lost 28 percent more fat than those who focused on diet alone.

If you want to learn more about what type of walking can yield these results and get the exact protocol I provide to my patients, check out my Walking for Weight Loss eBook.

2. Swimming

With summer almost upon us, swimming is another low-impact cardio exercise you should consider doing.

According to a 2015 study on women ages 40 to 60, swimming as an exercise reduces the stress on your joints, increases your physical strength, and even reduces body fat! [6]

Specifically, the women who swam for 60 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks reduced their body fat percentages by an average of about 3 percent

This is significant, especially in comparison with the control group, whose body fat increased by an average of 2 percent!

3. Yoga

One of the most effective low-impact exercises you can engage in is yoga. Not only does it support healthy weight management, but it also helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and even pain.

According to a 2018 study of 52 middle-aged women, completing just 12 sessions of yoga significantly decreased their levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. [7]

But there’s more. A 2011 review of 35 studies confirmed that regularly practicing yoga enhances muscular strength and body flexibility; promotes and improves both respiratory and cardiovascular function; and reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

It was also found to improve sleep and enhance overall physical and mental well-being and quality of life. [8]

As for weight loss, a 2013 review found that yoga was effective due to numerous factors, including heightened mindfulness, increased awareness of satiety, and increased energy expenditure. [9]

4. Pilates

One of my favorite low-impact cardio workouts is Pilates. In fact, I go to a Pilates class every week to maintain my fitness.

So, how effective is it? In a 2019 study, 110 women aged 60 and over were divided into two groups—one group who participated in Pilates and another who didn’t. The researchers found that Pilates group experienced significant improvements in both sleep duration and disturbances.

Additionally, the group who practiced Pilates also experienced improvements in depression and substantial improvements in anxiety. Plus, they reported feeling less fatigued after completing the workouts. [10]

Meanwhile, another study found that Pilates improved college students’ self-efficacy, sleep quality, and overall moods. [11]

5. Dancing

Finally, we can’t discuss low-impact cardio workouts without discussing dancing. Just like with Pilates, I go to a dance class every week to help myself de-stress, stay in shape, and just enjoy staying active.

But there are other benefits, too! In fact, dance has been found to sharpen our brains as we age. [12]

Specifically, research has revealed that dance can help to alleviate anxiety and depression while also improving cognitive ability and quality of life. [13]

Well, there you have it! If you struggle to maintain a workout regimen due to chronic pain or a low level of physical fitness, don’t let that deter you.

Instead, try one or more of these low-impact cardio workouts to get your blood flowing in a way that won’t cause pain or injury to your body. I promise that the benefit—and the energy boost—are worth the effort!

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