7 Low-Impact Exercises to Get Active Safely & Burn Calories

Getting active and exercising is good for our health, but not everyone can or will run long distances, play sports or lift heavy weights. Low-impact exercise can still get you moving, feel great and burn calories! High-impact exercises that involve running and jumping on hard surfaces can be hard on your joints. Lower-impact exercises can protect and lubricate joints, while being a great stress reliever too.

Walking is probably the best low-impact exercise you can do! Walking and other forms of low-impact exercise can be readily integrated into anyone’s routine without the need to stop and seek out (potentially expensive) exercise equipment. We’re taking a look at low-impact exercise, as well as some other options that you can try if you’re feeling adventurous.

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What’s the difference between high and low impact exercise?

Man running on jogging path

There’s no one accepted definition of “high-impact” vs “low-impact” exercise. Many trainers consider exercise to be low-impact if one foot is on the ground at all times. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, so it’s good to think about impact in terms of the force or shock on your joints. Most of the time the impact is felt in your knees and hips, which are trouble spots for many people.

Compare running with walking, for instance. Runners hit the ground harder on each step, which puts additional strain on joints like the knees. For people with healthy joints or people who love the intensity, high-intensity exercise can offer some great benefits. But for many people, the repeated impact can make joint problems worse, and can increase your chances of straining a muscle. Lower-intensity exercise can still get your heart rate up and improve your health, but it’s gentler on your joints and accessible to almost everyone.

Why Is Walking A Great, Low-impact Cardio Exercise?

Senior couple hiking up a hill

Walking is not only an easy, low-impact exercise, but it also provides mobility, it can be done anywhere. Walkers can even strut to work—provided they live close enough. When seeking new ways to work walking into a routine, remember to focus on stride and other aspects of proper walking posture.

Walking burns calories rapidly, tones muscles, promotes healthy heart function, and improves walkers’ state of mind—all by putting one foot in front of the other. Walking is especially encouraged during pregnancy, for combating depression, and self-maintenance through our entire life.

How To Further Reduce Impact On The Body When Walking And Exercising

Woman stretching hamstrings on a running track

Walkers can make exercise an even easier process for their joints by using exercise equipment, such as a cushioned treadmill model at the local gym or community center. Walkers can also reduce the impact on their joints by walking from one end of the shallow side of the pool to the other and back.

When walking for a low-impact, low-intensity workout, walkers should avoid walking along steep hills, setting their feet down flat, and walking on rocky or uneven terrain. For long walks, a cushioned walking surface with more give – like a walking or running track, can be much easier on the knees than a hard concrete surface. Although walking on grass or dirt can also take away some of the impact, you’ll have to contend with less secure footing, uneven ground and unexpected holes or rocks.

Ways To Make Walking More Intense, Without Adding Impact

woman walking up stairs for exercise

Sometimes just walking isn’t enough—you might feel the plateau coming on, but aren’t ready to take a leap into new exercises yet. There are several ways to make walking more intense without placing much extra impact on any joints, which include:

The possibilities for converting walking from a low-intensity, low-impact exercise into a high-intensity, low-impact exercise are virtually endless. Some prefer to carry walking weights or wear ankle weights, but this can actually impede your walking form and further increase joint stress. Instead, try something like Nordic walking for a full body exercise.

Other Great Low Impact Exercises

Tai Chi

group doing tai chi next to lake

Tai Chi is an ages-old Chinese practice which involves substantial amounts of stretching, body positioning, and breathing pattern control. This is an effective means of toning muscles and reducing stress through physical expression. Some believe that the energy within can help heal damage inflicted by stress over long periods of time.


Group swimming in a pool for exercise

Not only is swimming among the lowest impact options possible, but it is also one of the most intensive forms of cardio. Swimming takes the weight off of walkers’ joints, allowing even painful back problems to float from memory and heal from beneficial exercise, reduced stress, and increased blood flow. You don’t have to be a professional swimmer to get benefits. Even walking in the shallow end of the pool can be a challenging workout!


Friends biking in the park

Cycling, like walking, is an intensive, low-impact form of exercise. Cycling generally costs more than walking (unless you happen to have a bike laying around!) For those who cannot afford a new bike readily, seek out a local fitness or community center. There are very high odds that they will have stationary bikes, which walkers can use to very similar effect.


Elliptical machine training

Elliptical machines provide a lower-impact workout than walking or especially running on a treadmill. Because your feet are set and not constantly striking the ground, ellipticals can be easier on the knees. Ellipticals are also excellent options for those who prefer to exercise somewhere they can rest readily. They often have adjustable resistance levels, like treadmills and other exercise machines. Many also have handles that allow you to work your upper body as you walk.


Man in high-rise using rowing machine

Rowing is a lower impact motion that gives you both a cardio and strength workout. You can row in the safety of a home or gym with a rowing machine. Fees for rowing equipment vary, but many gyms and community centers have them readily available for public use. If you’re not familiar with rowing form, check online or ask a trainer for tips to keep your back straight as you row.

Kayaking (if you’re feeling adventurous!)

Couple kayaking in a lake

Kayaking is a great way to get out and see nature unabashed of the world-changing around it. Animals, fresh air, and more await on a journey into the wilderness. The main limiting factor in kayaking is the cost of buying a kayak, and the time and travel that may be required to find a river to kayak on. Fortunately, kayaks can often be rented for just a few dollars. If you live near a river, there may be a less intense rafting outfit where you can still do some paddling with a guide in a shared raft.

Final Thoughts

Even if you have some joint problems, there’s a good chance you can still get out and exercise by choosing lower-impact movements. Walking isn’t just for people with joint problems either! Anyone can benefit from a good, low impact workout.

Just remember—walking and other low-impact exercises can easily become high-intensity exercises without being hard on vital joints.

If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.


34 thoughts on “7 Low-Impact Exercises to Get Active Safely & Burn Calories

  1. I have a new knee and I learn a lot from
    your advice. I used to be a runner every day but on
    the pavements. If only I had known about your advice then. Thanks


    1. What you walk on definitely makes a difference! Shoes and other factors can help, but if you can find a walking or running track to walk on it’s much easier on your knees. Sometimes I take a hard step by accident on concrete or stone pavement and it really hurts. It’s not easy to find a path like that, so I totally understand why you’d run on whatever surface was available.

      If you go to a gym, I’ve found the elliptical is much lower impact. You don’t have to hit down with your knee each time. Hope your knee is doing better! Thanks for following our blog by the way!


  2. Hi, i’ve just been diagnosed with osteoporosis in my lumbar spine and the beginnings of osteoporosis in the neck of both females. Which would be the best low impact exercise for me. I have previously done quite a bit of walking and I can only do the breaststroke. I also belong to the gym but I only lose it for the Pilates and yoga classes. Nina


    1. Hi Nina! It’s tough to say which low impact exercise is best. You’d need to ask your doctor for your specific medical condition. Walking is usually pretty low impact for most people – your walking surface can make a difference though. A walking track or softer surface can help. Classes like pilates and yoga might be lower impact than something like running. Hope this helps, and good luck!


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