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5 Low Impact Exercises to Help Keep You Fit and Healthy

While many people love to dive headfirst into exercise routines that push their bodies to the absolute limit, ‘pain and gain’ is not the only way to stay fit and healthy.

After all, everyone has different fitness and mobility levels. Maybe you’re recovering from an old injury? Or perhaps you’re privy to an endorphin rush without enduring a serious sweat session?

In this article, we break down the best low impact exercises that you can implement into your weekly routine – and all without a dumbbell in sight!

What is a low impact workout?

Before we jump into different examples of low intensity exercise, let’s first look at what a low impact workout means in practice.

To break it down in simple terms, low impact exercises include any type of workout that raises your heart rate while minimising the impact on your joints or muscles. That rules out long-distance running, interval training, deadlifts, and other high intensity exercises that put your body under strain.

Instead, low impact exercises are workouts best suited to people recovering from injury, seniors who want to stay fit, and those who are just getting back into exercise, such as parents after pregnancy.

That’s not to say low intensity workouts aren’t effective at keeping you fit and healthy – far from it, in fact! By practising low impact exercises four to five times a week, you can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Improved mental health: Not only can low impact exercises help boost self-esteem and lift your mood, but doing them can also lead to long-term mental health improvements, helping to combat stress, depression, and anxiety.

  • Lower blood pressure: Staying active with low intensity workouts keeps your heart and blood vessels in good condition, which, in addition to a heart healthy diet, is great for weight loss. This can contribute to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.

  • Stronger muscles and bones: Light cardio and low impact exercises help to improve the condition of your body, giving you more energy for your day-to-day tasks – all of which can be hugely beneficial for any office worker!

  • Reduced risk of major illnesses: Exercising regularly, including low intensity workouts, can help reduce the risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

What’s the best low impact exercise?

It all depends on your workout preferences. If you’re into getting outside and enjoying nature, then the best low impact exercise for you is going to be walking or cycling. Not only will this benefit your cardiovascular health but will also work wonders for your mental health!

Another fantastic low impact exercise is swimming. Swimming is a great option for those who love nothing more than being in the water and cutting off from the world for a while. It is also particularly great for those who are injury-prone or who don’t enjoy the feeling of getting sweaty during high impact exercise. 

5 Low impact exercises to try for yourself

1. Walking

1 hour of walking burns approx. 250 calories

The first low impact exercise on our list is free, easy, and already a part of your everyday routine. That’s right, the simple act of walking can have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing without putting too much strain on your joint and muscles.

The trick to increasing the regularity of this low impact cardio exercise is to adjust your everyday activities accordingly. Instead of driving to the shop to pick up milk, for example, head out on foot to up your step count for the day. Or, if possible, start walking to work, rather than driving or getting public transport – even just getting off at a different stop can help keep you more active.

What’s more, you get to exercise in the great outdoors, improving your cardio while getting some fresh air.

2. Cycling

1 hour of cycling burns approx. 400 calories

Much like walking, cycling is an example of a low impact aerobic exercise that helps keep you in tip-top condition.

Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about the gruelling, Tour de France-inspired cycling sessions that have you climbing hills and speeding around winding country lanes. Instead, you can turn cycling into low impact cardio workout by just getting on a bike more often - leisurely cycling around the park, to the shops, or to work.

You can also purchase a stationary bike to practise this low impact cardio at home, or head to your local gym for specialist equipment or spin classes.

3. Swimming

1 hour of swimming burns approx. 200 calories

Whether you head to your local public pool or like to splash about in the sea, swimming is an effective low aerobic activity that strengthens your muscles and gets your heart rate up. Low aerobic exercise examples include walking through the water, swimming lengths in a leisurely breast stroke, and water aerobics.

Swimming is an especially useful low intensity exercise for people with arthritis or osteoporosis, as the buoyancy of the water takes any pressure off your bones or joints. It’s also a great low impact exercise for seniors looking to get more active in their spare time!

4. Yoga

1 hour of yoga burns approx. 200 calories

If you’re looking for a low impact workout at home, there aren't many more effective exercises than yoga. Not only does it improve balance and core stability, but yoga can be a great stress reliever.

The best part? There are yoga poses to suit everyone’s fitness and mobility levels. For example, fitness beginners can practise standing or seated poses, while yoga veterans can put their balance to the test with deep stretches and precarious handstands.

Find a yoga class that suits your level of experience or try out different poses from videos and articles online.

5. Pilates

1 hour of Pilates burns approx. 200 calories

It’s easy to assume yoga and Pilates work the same muscles, but there are a few key differences between these low impact exercises that set them apart.

Where yoga is all about holding static poses for overall muscle toning, Pilates focuses on movement around the core to ease aches and help improve posture. Whichever you prefer, both low impact workouts increase your heart rate and help support your wellbeing.

If you’re new to this aerobic exercise, sign up to a Pilates class at your local gym or community centre to see if it’s beneficial for you.

To learn more about how to implement low impact exercises into your routine, head over to Be Healthy hub. You can find articles on ways to improve health overall, as well as tips for staying motivated on your fitness journey. As a Benenden Health member, keep active with a range of free instructor-led virtual health, fitness and wellbeing classes. For more information about how to put your body first, visit our healthcare cover page at Benenden Health.

Medically reviewed by Llinos Connolly on June 2023.