We all know that moving our bodies (even when it’s uncomfortable) is good for them, but when you have joint pain, fibromyalgia, knee problems, or other chronic aches and pains, it can be difficult to get moving enough to get your heart rate up. Running — outside or in place or on a treadmill — is the first and easiest cardio that comes to mind. But. We can’t all sustain running, so what do we do for cardio? Fortunately, there are plenty of options that are “low-impact” on your body but still get your heart pumping and your muscles stronger.
Low-impact exercises are not as stressful on your joints as running, “boot camp” aerobics, and jumping rope. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to exercise in general, and if you’re overweight, pregnant, or have a chronic condition it can offer a safe way to exercise.
Walking is easy and doesn’t cost a thing to start doing, although a sturdy pair of walking shoes would be a good investment. If you can’t get outside, get access to a treadmill by either buying one or signing up at a local gym, senior center, or YMCA. The amount of calories you burn will depend on your weight and pace. A 160-pound person burns 276 calories an hour walking at a brisk pace of 3.5 miles per hour. Up the speed to 4 mph, and she burns 363 calories. If all you can do is walk laps around your house or couch, then do that! Any activity is better than none at all.
Water activities are very easy on the joints because the water’s buoyancy can take a lot of weight off your knees and help balance you. If you can swim, the workouts below are recommended to build up your heart muscle and burn calories by Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
If you are a beginner, do what you can and consider learning a few new techniques to swim more efficiently.
300m timed swim plus 5 x 100m sprint
200m warmup, 10 x 50m sprints (rest 30-45 sec), 500m cool down
Repeat 5 times: Sprint 100m-200m tread water 1 min (no hands)
Medium Workout: 20 x 25m sprints, rest 10-15 seconds, 10 x 50m sprints, rest 20-30 seconds
If you aren’t up to swimming laps, consider a water aerobics or aqua therapy class to build up your strength.
Stew Smith recommends the stationary bike pyramid for cardio. You can actually do this on an elliptical machine as well.
Start – Level 1 on manual mode for 1 minute and keep the RPMs at 80-100.
Each minute that passes, increase the resistance by 1 level. Continue this process until you are having difficulty breathing and/or peddling. When you get really good at this you can take the bike to level 20.
THEN, repeat the cycle in reverse order. So you have a warmup – max out – cool down all rolled into one nice package. This workout will take 39-40 minutes if you are that advanced. But, if you can only get up to level 10 and back to level 1, your time investment is only 19 minutes.
Getting outside on a real bicycle is also a good way to get in your workouts. It’s best to use bike trails if you can, as sharing the road with cars can be more dangerous and stressful.
An elliptical machine gives you a good cardio workout without stressing your hips, knees and back. Many elliptical machines have ski pole-like handles, which work your upper body too. A 160-pound person can burn about 371 calories in 45 minutes at a moderate rate.
What are your favorite low-impact exercises and what are you excited to try this year? Let me know in the comments!
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