Low Impact Exercise Options for People with Chronic Conditions

If you are looking for a way to increase your strength, flexibility, stamina or overall health, one of the best options is an exercise program. There are a multitude of various fitness programs, so some of the initial difficulty lies in choosing  one that is right for you.

For many people with chronic health conditions like arthritis, lower back pain or lung disease, it may be important that you engage in a form of exercise that doesn’t strain your body too much. Low impact exercises like walking or swimming can be ideal for people who want to improve their general health but don’t want to over-exert their joints, muscles or cardiovascular system.

What Is Low Impact Exercise?

As a general rule of thumb, low impact exercise is any activity that minimizes jumping or colliding with other surfaces. In most cases, low impact exercise can be performed without great speed or extreme positioning of your body.

It is a common misconception that low impact exercise is not as effective as a high impact workout. Swimming is a low impact activity that can be ramped up to a very high intensity. Most people, however, with chronic conditions are not seeking peak physical performance, but instead are merely looking for a way to stay active with minimal risk of injury.

Why Low Impact Activity Is so Beneficial

There are many reasons why low impact activity is the right choice for people with chronic health conditions.

  • Easy start—there is no reason to start off a new exercise program with a high intensity routine that can put you at risk of injury or burnout. Start off with a gentle workout that can ease  you into a new workout routine that will still have health benefits.
  • Improved mobility and balance—many low impact exercises like Tai Chi and yoga emphasize slow movements and body positions that improve strength and balance.
  • Shortened recovery times—one of the real advantages of low impact exercises is that because it puts less strain on the body, less time is needed to recover. Typically, this means you can repeat the workout more often and improve your health that much faster.
  • Burns calories—any form of exercise will burn calories, and low impact exercise is not an exception. You may not experience a dramatic decline in body weight, but rest assured that habitual exercise should improve your metabolism and make it easier to burn off calories.
  • Accessible to most people—if you are someone who enjoys activities more when you can share them with others, then low impact exercise is ideal because almost anyone can perform them.

Low Impact Exercise Options

There are many varieties of low impact exercises, but here are some of the most popular:

  • Walking—unlike running which involves having both feet off of the ground at least part of the time, walking offers greater stability and less impact with at least one foot on the ground at all times. Although your caloric burn rate may not be as high as running, it is still challenging enough to produce some weight loss, cardiovascular improvement and enhanced mood.
  • Swimming—because swimming does not involve contacting any hard surface, it can be considered a no-impact exercise which is ideal for people with joint or pain issues. Furthermore, many people enjoy the buoyancy and freedom  of movement that water provides. Swimming also offers a full-body workout that improves core strength and endurance.
  • Yoga—most people require instruction from a yoga teacher at first, but once the initial knowledge is acquired, you can perform these low impact exercises on your own. The great advantages of yoga include enhanced balance, strength and cardiovascular performance. Some people also benefit from the spiritual aspects of yoga as well.
  • Cycling—riding a bicycle can be great for your joints and is quite low impact as you remain seated and your feet in contact with the pedals. If you are reluctant to go out on the road, you can get many of the same benefits from a stationary bike.
  • Rowing—a rowing machine offers low impact exercise that works out your entire body. Because your hips and feet remain in constant contact with the machine, there is minimal impact on your joints.
  • Elliptical machine—if you enjoy the motion of running but want to avoid the constant impacts on your feet, knees and hips, then you may want to consider the elliptical machine. You can adjust the resistance so that you push yourself without straining joints or muscles.
  • Pilates—Pilates is an assortment of exercises intended to strengthen your core muscles. These low impact exercises should be performed in a specific order, so you should attend a class until you are familiar with the routine. Although this is not a cardio workout, it should increase your strength and flexibility.
  • Tai chi—perhaps the premier low impact exercise, Tai Chi incorporates slow, gentle motions to enhance strength, flexibility and spiritual growth. This ancient form of exercise utilizes a variety of poses that flow from one to the next. There are a variety of tai chi types, each emphasizing a certain aspect like health improvement, martial art, or stress management.
  • Golf—you may not consider golf a low impact exercise since it can be a competitive sport, but it involves a great deal of walking with only a minor amount of ball-striking. It also provides important benefits like socialization and spending time outdoors.

Regardless of what low impact exercise you choose, there are some things you should keep in mind. First of all, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor first. Your doctor is well aware of your current health and can advise you on how best to proceed with a new exercise program. They can also help monitor your progress and adjust your training routine if necessary.

Secondly, it is important to start off slowly, especially if you are trying a form of exercise that is new to you. It may be a wise idea to join a class or hire a personal trainer.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.