Walking can be a low impact cardio workout for achy knees and more

Walking is already a lower-impact exercise, but you can decrease the impact even further for low-impact cardio that’s easy on sore knees and sore joints. Low impact doesn’t necessarily mean walking slower, and you can still get a calorie-burning walking workout with less stress on your joints. You can still get your steps, lose weight and tighten your waistline with less joint pain and fewer aches than you’d get from high-impact activities.

We’ll cover the difference between high and low impact exercise, 4 ways that you can lower the intensity of your walks (without having to walk slower) and 4 other low-impact exercises you can do when even walking isn’t an option.

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What Are Low (and High) Impact Exercises?

Senior Nordic walker kicking and jumping
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

The impact level of an exercise generally refers to how much stress and force an exercise puts on your joints and muscles. Even healthy, fit adults usually use forms of both high and low impact exercises to meet their personal exercise needs. If you’re dealing with an injury, chronic health condition, or if you’re a senior, lowering the impact of your walking and other exercises are important to prevent injuries. Impact is more than just how fast and hard you work out, but the type of exercise and how and where you perform it can influence the impact level as well.

  • Low Impact Exercises: These exercises are considered to be gentle on the joints and are perfect for individuals that are new to working out or those who are recovering from an injury. Low-impact exercises are workouts that make it easy for the joints to be in constant, fluid motion. There is less jarring impact, and less running and jumping than high-intensity exercise. That is why moderate-paced walking is such a widely recommended, ideal low impact exercise. It can help build strength and flexibility, especially around the joints, which protects them from other strenuous activities.
  • High Impact Exercises: High impact exercises put more pressure and strain on the joints. They’re generally higher intensity and involve more fast and sudden movements. These types of activities don’t always include running or jumping either; even walking at faster speeds for extended periods on uneven surfaces can have the same effect as other high impact exercises.

How to Lower the Impact of Your Walking

Woman fitness walking on a park walking track
Focus and Blur / Shutterstock

Knowing how to lower the intensity of your workouts is just as important as knowing how to ramp up to a brisk fitness walk. While less intense forms of walking are generally lower impact, there are additional steps you can take to lower the impact of your walks – in addition to simply lowering your walking speed.

Lowering the impact of your walks is important if you’re dealing with a long term injury or health issues or just facing temporary soreness, injuries, or even overtraining and workout fatigue. Lower impact walking can be ideal for those situations. By incorporating the below suggestions into your fitness walking, you will still be able to get in a great cardio walking workout while decreasing the impact on your joints, your muscles, and your bones.

  • Flat, Level Surfaces: Look for flat surfaces, free of bumps and obstacles for a lower-impact walk. Walking up hills or stairs is a great way to burn more calories more quickly, but it also dramatically increases the impact on your joints. Walking on level terrain creates a repetitive fluid motion for your joints and muscles, preventing pain and inflammation that uneven surfaces may cause. It’s also much easier to maintain proper posture on flat surfaces, which is good for your joints.
  • Soft Surfaces: Looking for a soft walking surface, like a rubberized walking track, can make walks much easier on your joints. Walking or running tracks provide excellent traction and shock-absorbing properties. You’ll feel fewer aches and pains in your joints compared to harder surfaces like concrete. A side benefit is that they’re sticker when wet, making it easier to walk and harder to slip.
  • Walking Poles: Walking poles not only give you an upper body workout as you walk, but they also help take some of the load from your hips, knees, lower back, and joints as you walk. Getting into Nordic walking is a great way to reduce the impact of your walks. If you do go off-road on grass or another soft surface, walking poles can help you avoid falling and mitigate some of the extra impact on your joints that an uneven surface like grass or dirty can create.
  • Well-Cushioned Shoes: One of the best things you can do for your joints is to get good walking shoes that provide you with proper support and foundation. A well-fitting cushioned walking shoe will help keep the pressure and stress off your knees and joints. This, in turn, will reduce pain in both your feet and knees and other joints that might come from daily walking workouts.

Other Low-Impact Exercises

Woman stretching at home after a workout
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Sometimes an injury may bench you from most activities, even walking. On other days, you may want to supplement your walking routine with a different activity that focuses on flexibility or different movements to help ease those muscle aches and pains. These exercises are great for switching things up, aiding your recovery and also building strength and flexibility to benefit your walking routine.

  • Yoga: Yoga is a great way to build strength and flexibility, as well as reduce joint pain. There are yoga moves and poses for any fitness level which can give you a full-body workout that’s low impact on your joints.
  • Stretching: Some days, one of the best exercises you can do is taking some time and getting in an excellent stretch session. Slowing down and giving your muscles and joints the rest and care they need will not only leave you bouncing back stronger but will help you maintain your exercise routine for years to come. Make sure you’re properly warmed up before starting any stretching session, however!
  • Swimming (or most water exercises): Swimming is a great low-impact exercise for any age or fitness level. You can modify any of the strokes to fit your physical capabilities while still getting in a great cardio workout. If you’re not into swimming laps, even walking in water (or doing water aerobics) is a very low-impact way to get active. The water takes almost all of the weight off your joints, letting you move around freely with less impact on sore knees or joints.
  • Elliptical Machine: An elliptical machine gives you the benefits of walking with less of a jarring impact on your knees as your feet never leave the footpads. You can also get an upper-body workout if the machine has handles. It’s a great alternative to a treadmill for those with sore joints. Please note that Pacer may have difficulty recording your precise steps depending on the movement of your specific elliptical. It should get some steps on most devices, provided your phone is on your body as you move.

Final Thoughts

Walking is, by far, one of the most popular low impact exercises out there and for a good reason. The health benefits you can get from walking are almost endless, and it is an exercise that is ideal for any age and fitness level. Walking is also fantastic for those that need to adjust their exercise intensity level to fit their individual needs. It’s perfect for those that are looking to push themselves with a higher intensity workout and those that want to take a slower approach and enjoy a lower intensity stroll. Regardless, the end result will be the same for both: amazing mental health and physical health benefits.

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EASY ON THE KNEES: LOW-IMPACT WORKOUTS FOR BEGINNERS. (2017). By Lunden Souza. Runtastic Addidas.

High-Impact vs. Low-Impact Exercises. (ND). American Sports and Fitness Association. ASFA

Athletic shoes for osteoarthritis of the knee. (ND). Medical News Today. 

Could walking poles help me get more out of my daily walk? (ND). By Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. Mayo Clinic. 

7 Low Impact Exercises for a Fitter You. (ND). The Leaf. 

The Benefits of Walking on Uneven Ground. (ND). By Charlotte Watts. Charlotte Watts Health Blog. 



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