If slow and steady is more your style when you exercise, you might just win the fitness race.
Low impact, deliberate movement should be the foundation of any exercise routine, says our expert.
“Your body becomes stronger, has more endurance and will develop more muscle mass if you include low impact exercise,” says Corinna Medina, supervisor of MD Anderson Fitness Centers. “And you learn to control your heart rate and your breathing, which reduces stress.”
Medina says she learned this the hard way after years of focusing on high intensity exercise.
“I would always do high intensity training,” she says. “Then I realized I was getting sick a lot more because my body was always in a stressed state.”
Without low impact exercise, your body is more prone to injury and does not have time to recover from the demands of life.
Try these low impact exercises
Walking. The benefits of walking cannot be overstated. If you can add more steps to your day, it will help keep your body conditioned and help you maintain a healthy weight.
“It’s the one thing that’s left out of everybody’s day,” says Medina. “People that can hit 10,000 steps per day are often healthier than those that do 30 minutes of gym time daily.”
Swimming. Hit a rhythm in the pool and it can calm you down, increase your lung capacity and work almost every muscle in your body.
“The main thing about swimming is to get your breathing down,” says Medina. “Get into a groove and this can be one of the best low impact exercises.”
Tai Chi/Qi Gong. These mind-body practices are designed to get energy flowing smoothly around your body. Both involve slow and steady movements coordinated with your breath and are accessible to people of all fitness levels.
“These are great activities to learn how to adjust and adapt to different stressors in your life,” says Medina.
Like yoga, these mind-body practices can have long lasting effects on your mental and physical health.
Low impact interval training. This involves doing more of the easier strength training activities and can help you build muscle. It also can ensure you learn to do the exercises correctly.
“This would be more lightweight exercises but a higher number of repetitions,” says Medina.
A low impact interval circuit could include no-jump jacks, jump-free squats and modified lunges. Isometric exercises like planks, wall sits and glute bridges also work well.
Pilates. Pilates focuses on proper posture, core strength and high repetitions. It can be very challenging but is much more doable for many people because of the way the movements are designed.
“I would consider it low impact, but it feels high intensity just because of the types of exercises you’re doing,” says Medina. “You’re not working with heavy weights, there’s not a lot of jumping. It’s more focused on each muscle group.”
In Pilates, you will often do small movements for many repetitions.
How to make the most of low impact exercise
To maximize your low impact exercise consider adding mindfulness. Practicing mindful exercise means letting go of outside thoughts and bringing your attention completely to your body.
This can be hard because our mind is often distracted by plans for the future or thoughts about things that have happened in the past.
You can build up your mindfulness skills by practicing mindful breathing. If you can sit and simply breathe for five minutes each day, it can help you focus during exercise too.
How much low impact exercise should you do?
MD Anderson recommends you do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
Sometimes low impact exercise can become vigorous. That means you can say a few words but you are not able to hold a conversation.
And if you can consistently do low impact exercise, it will likely become much easier to add in some high intensity training over time.
“You can help your body become stronger in many areas,” says Medina. And if you already do some high intensity training, low impact work can help you stay balanced.
“Whether it’s through Pilates, yoga, massage or meditation, those activities give your body a chance to repair and recover so you can handle the high intensity activities.”
Just about every movement we do, from walking up stairs, to carrying groceries, to picking up our children or grandchildren, requires some strength. Wouldn’t it be nice if those activities got a little bit easier?
Our muscles support us and if we take just a little time to give them a boost, it can really pay off.
That’s why regular strength training, also called resistance training, is always included in physical activity recommendations. Strength training is different from aerobic exercises like running or cycling, which focus on strengthening your heart and lungs. Strength training helps make your muscles stronger.
Your strength can have a big impact on your quality of life. It can keep injuries and aches at bay. But where do you start?
How to start strength training
All you need for effective strength training is to create some resistance so your muscles work a bit harder than usual. The best way to begin is a strength training routine that uses your own body weight. No need to buy weights or take a trip to the gym.
“I like to get people going with a series of simple exercises to get them feeling stronger for the movements that they perform every day,” says Evan Thoman, a wellness specialist at MD Anderson.