We are sure you have heard about ‘high impact’ and ‘low impact’ cardio before, but do you know what the terms mean? Or which is right for you? In this post, we are going to explain the difference between the two and give you some points to consider when assessing the type of cardio that will most suit your body.
This will be an inclusive discussion, everyone from regular gym goers to newbies and seniors to overweight people will be covered. The benefits of cardio exercise apply to all so we could not leave anyone out.
High Impact cardio vs low
Engaging in cardio exercise makes the heart pump faster to deliver oxygen-rich blood around the body. This effect is caused by an energy-generation process that uses oxygen to enable the body to perform the exercise.
Cardio strengthens the muscles used during breathing, increases circulation, reduces stress levels, promotes general organ health, and – most importantly – it strengthens the heart. The heart is a muscle and cardio is essentially a strengthening session.
Benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise
Regularly engaging in cardio will make the heart better at pumping blood around the body, it can then afford to do fewer beats per minute resulting in a lower resting heartrate. This is linked to a reduced risk in life-threatening conditions, such as stroke and heart attacks.
Another benefit of cardio exercises is that they are all good calorie burners and are therefore a way of promoting weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight is not only aesthetically desirable, but also crucial to good health.
Why is being fat bad for you?
Many unpleasant health complaints are linked to or aggravated by excess flab, such as type 2 diabetes, back pain, respiratory problems, and heart conditions.
Cardio exercises can be divided into two types based on the pressure they put on the joints. High impact exercises can see multiples of a person’s bodyweight being slammed down on areas like the knees, shins, and feet.
This causes stress which, over time, can lead to injury. Low impact exercises, by contrast, have the same cardiovascular effect (i.e. they get the heart pumping) but the moves performed do not cause this stress. As such, they avoid many of the aches and pains associated with high impact cardio.
Who should do low impact cardio?
The groups for whom low impact cardio is most recommended are seniors and people who are recovering from injury. Older people often experience aged-related joint problems, yet they also stand to gain the most from cardio because many of the health conditions mentioned above carry age as a risk factor.
Another group for whom low impact cardio is suitable is the overweight.
Carrying excess weight causes two problems: firstly, it is a constant source of pressure on the joints which makes everyday movements stressful; and secondly, when performing high impact cardio, the force put on the joints can equate to several times a person’s bodyweight. More weight = more stress!#
Is low impact cardio good for weight loss?
Cardio is good for calorie burning, which should result in weight loss and help to relieve some of the pressure, and low impact is the safest form.
People who regularly engage in high impact cardio and young people can benefit from low impact cardio too. While these groups are likely to be fit and free from joint pain, low impact cardio supports health and fitness while giving the joints a break.
As we have discussed in other posts, high impact cardio like running is not dangerous per se, rather people tend to injure themselves through poor technique. Low impact cardio is a way of removing that risk of injury, allowing the person the develop healthy lifelong training practices.
Getting started: Best low impact cardio exercises
High impact cardio generally includes some form or jumping or landing. Low impact has the same effect on the inside (i.e. the heart pumps faster) but without these movements. The most accessible and easiest form of low impact cardio is walking.
#1 – A brisk walk
We recommend that people who are new to exercise, who carry excess weight, who have joint conditions, or who are recovering from an injury begin their fitness journey here. A brisk walk will elevate the heartrate and get the blood coursing.
It is not an gruelling form of exercise so it does not burn as high calories as the same time spent jogging, but it is low impact and very enjoyable.
If you don’t fancy tackling the great outdoors, there’s plenty of treadmills that are ideal for walking on.
#2 Cycling and spinning
For those who are looking to rack up some serious calories, there are plenty of low impact exercises for sweating it all out. Cycling outdoors or spinning indoors, using a cross trainer, using an airbike, and rowing are great ways of putting yourself through a fat-busting session.
Cycling is a great form of cardio that has hardly any impact on your joints. If you’ve struggled with upright cycling in the past, or have a back condition that prevents you from taking part in cycling, maybe think about a recumbent bike. This low-impact bike is way more comfortable while maintaining all the benefits of cycling.
#3 – Ellipticals
Whether you’re an Olympic athlete, or you’ve never exercise in your life, ellipticals are always one of the first machines we recommend? Why? Apart from the fact they absolutely torch calories, they’re super-easy to use and a lot of fun to workout with. More importantly, the most impact you’ll get from this is when you step back off them.
However, we understand that some people are intimidated by gym equipment, especially those who are new to the gym or who are worried about injuring themselves (though they really are very safe).
#4 – Swimming
So, we have saved the best for last: swimming. This is a low impact exercise because the water supports your bodyweight, but at the same time it creates a resistance that you must move through. The result is a great workout!
#5 – Rowing
Rowing’s natural looping motion makes it the perfect low-impact form of cardio. Whether you get your own rowing machine for home, or head to the gym, you’ll quickly break a sweat and be burning calories like no-one’s business. Make no mistake, rowing is incredibly hard work! But as there’s next-to-no impact on your body, it’s one of the best low-impact forms of working out.
Related: Air Rowers vs. Water rowers
References & Further Reading
- How to choose a spin bike
- Harvard – Exercise & your joints
- Which is better: Treadmill vs. Elliptical
- NHS – Easy exercises
- NCBI – Effects of low-impact exercise on capacity & mood in adults