The Benefits of Low-Impact Exercises
Ever since High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts made the list of the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual ranking of worldwide fitness trends in 2014, they’ve remained a favorite among workout warriors and fitness newbies alike. It makes sense. HIIT workouts combine short bursts of intense exercise followed by short periods of rest. The method gets your heart rate up and leaves you sweating — almost always immediately — so you feel a sense of accomplishment once you’ve finished your final rep.
Yet, while HIIT and other high-intensity workouts have a certain allure for cardio-loving gym junkies, it’s time to give some serious consideration to low-impact exercises.
Low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, walking, and barre often get overlooked because they’re not as “intense” as HIIT. But the truth is, they’re just as beneficial as their sweat-inducing counterparts.
Here are the mind, body, and heart benefits of low-impact exercise (that may just surprise you).
Easy On The Joints
Popular HIIT exercises like running, burpees, and jump squats are hard on your body. The impact of the landing can often reverberate through your joints, causing strain and a higher risk of injury. Even if you don’t feel any negative effects immediately, frequent high-intensity workouts with lots of jumping or suspension can wear down your joints over time, leading to conditions like arthritis.
On the flipside, low-impact exercises are technically considered anything that keeps at least one foot on the ground (including cycling, at least in moderation!). Especially for those who have sensitive joints or are recovering from an injury, low-impact exercises like power walking are great ways to keep up a regular fitness routine without overdoing it.
Swimming is also considered one of the best low-impact exercises for your joints, so much so that boutique fitness studios like AQUA Studio in New York City offer cycling classes in a saltwater pool to go easier on your body.
Creates A Slow Burn
High-intensity workouts may help you burn calories fast, but low-intensity workouts target your fat-burning zone. When you take a HIIT class, oftentimes, your heart rate gets pushed right into the anaerobic zone. As a result, your body stops using your fat reserves to provide energy for your workout, dipping instead into your glucose reserves that come from carbohydrates.
However, in order to burn fat with lower-intensity physical activities, the CDC says your target heart rate only needs to be between 64 percent and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate. For a 32-year-old, this means your heart rate should be between 120-143 beats per minute when working out. You can easily achieve this through low-intensity (but still muscle-burning) workouts like power yoga or a few laps in a pool — and you might not even break a sweat!
Another serious pro of low-intensity workouts like barre and walking is how they help improve your body’s endurance without putting extra strain on your body. For those of you who are all too familiar with that feeling of soreness the day after a workout — the kind that makes it difficult you walk up the stairs or even get up the next morning — then low-impact exercises may be a welcome switch. Unlike an extreme powerlifting or boxing session at the gym, going low and slow actually allows you to get in a longer workout and recover more quickly between sessions.
Especially if you have “run a marathon” on your life bucket list, doing low-impact exercises (even if that’s just a 30-minute walk every morning or weekend barre class) can help you increase your endurance so you can stay healthy in the long-term.
Another reason to consider swapping out your HIIT workout for something less extreme? LISS. LISS stands for low-intensity steady-state and has been shown in studies to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. In comparison, moderate to high-intensity exercise can actually cause increases in cortisol, which negatively affects both your mind and body. So the next time you need to destress after a long workday or kick off your morning with feel-good vibes, skip the jumping jacks and high knees and unroll your mat for some full-body stretches or a quick at-home barre routine.
Beyond all the health benefits of low-impact workouts, a study in the Journal of Sports and Science in Medicine also showed that people who did lower-intensity workouts simply enjoyed their workouts more than those who did high-intensity ones. On top of staying healthy, isn’t that the point of working out after all?