Low-impact fitness involves exercises that improve agility, flexibility, strength, and endurance without delivering stress to joints like high-impact fitness regimes do. High-impact exercises include running, jogging, and jumping rope, while low-impact fitness programs employ activities such as walking, swimming, and yoga. A rule of thumb when determining if an exercise is high or low-impact is that during low-impact fitness exercises, at least one foot is always on the ground.
Exercise of any kind is an essential part of maintaining a healthy mind and body. Moving muscles and joints raises the heart rate, encourages blood flow, and increases respiration. Some people, either because they are aging, injured, or have a medical condition, are unable to engage in high-impact exercises. Low-impact exercises generally are recommended for everyone, as they don't tend to strain the body as much as the high-impact activities.
Walking is one of the easiest low-impact fitness exercises. Walking can be done indoors on a treadmill or in place to a walking DVD, or it can be done outside on a track, sidewalk, or other safe area. Experts often recommend sturdy, comfortable shoes with thick flexible soles for walking programs. Also, walking with a stride that lands the heel first with toes pointed forward generally is most effective. Warming up before and cooling down after walking can be accomplished with slow stretching exercises. After a gradual slow start, walking 10,000 steps a day is typically recommended by fitness experts. Drinking plenty of water also can help ensure hydration and cushion the joints.
Stretching programs such as yoga and Pilates are also common types of low-impact fitness regimes. These exercise programs put little stress on joints since they are slow, steady movements and use progressive relaxation techniques. Stretching warms up the muscles and increases circulation to all parts of the body. Yoga assists with balance while Pilates strengthens the core muscles, including the back and abdomen.
Water aerobics classes are another type of low-impact fitness many people enjoy. Exercising in water helps to cushion the joints and allows pregnant, overweight, or injured people to exercise freely, more often, and with relatively little pain. Adding weights, pool noodles, kickboards, and other devices can increase the benefits of this low-impact fitness exercise.
Aerobic dancing also can be a low-impact exercise if jolting movements, such as jumping, leaping, and hopping, are eliminated or modified. Many aerobic dance DVDs demonstrate the exercise motions in levels of high, medium, and low impact. Modifying aerobic dance movements so one foot is always on the ground can turn even a high-impact movement into a low-impact exercise.