Low impact exercise refers to activities that do not place increased stress on your joints, such as stationary bicycling, swimming, elliptical training, and chair exercises (versus running, walking, or stair climbing). A wide range of people may benefit from this kind of exercise, from athletes looking to add some cross-training to their routine, to people who have mobility issues but would like to stay active.
Many low impact exercises are also good forms of cardiovascular exercise. Swimming is one of the best low impact exercises, because it decreases the amount of stress on your joints. At the same time it tones and strengthens your upper and lower body and increases your heart rate. Athletes often incorporate low impact activities into their routine while recovering from their injury. For example, if you’re a runner and you perform the same activity daily, using the same muscles day in and day out, you may be more prone to injury. Alternating your days running with swimming will give your body time to recover and use different muscle groups. Ideally you want to find a combination of exercises that allows you to alternate the joint and muscles that you are using repetitively. For those of you who like doing weights at the gym, seated dumbbell curls and rows are considered low-impact, but deadlifts and squats are considered high impact because you’re loading your joints as you stand and lift additional weight.
For people who have difficulty standing for long durations of time, chair exercises like seated marching or seated knee extensions offer a way to work your muscles without unnecessary strain. Adding weights or resistance bands can make these exercises more challenging. Often a person will start with very basic chair exercises and work their way up to adding resistance or weights, eventually progressing to standing exercises when appropriate. In this video, I demonstrate exercises to help strengthen your leg muscles while in a seated position:
In this next video, I’ll show you some chair exercises to help strengthen arm and postural muscles:
Low impact exercise offers a lot of benefits, but there are a number of factors to consider when putting together your fitness program. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise regime. Consult with your physical therapist about finding a combination of exercises that are the appropriate intensity for you.
Lauren Piljic is a doctor of physical therapy at the Joint Mobility Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has often taught the low impact exercise classes offered at HSS.