Research suggests that moderate-intensity low-impact activity, such as yoga and fast walking, is just as effective as high-impact activity, such as running, in lowering the risk of heart disease.
High-impact exercise isn't advisable if:
- you're pregnant
- you've injured your joints, bones or connective tissue
- you have chronic problems, such as arthritis, osteoporosis or stress fractures
- you're very overweight
- you're new to exercise
"Low-impact exercise doesn't put the joints under much stress," says Robin Gargrave, executive director of YMCAfit, one of the UK's leading trainers of fitness professionals.
"The idea is that it's less likely to cause an impact-type injury, such as an ankle sprain or cartilage tear."
Here are some popular low-impact activities:
These home exercises are ideal if you're not very active but want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent. Don't worry if you haven't done much for a while. These exercises are easy, gentle and can be done indoors.
Walking is by far the most popular low-impact exercise. It works the cardiovascular system and burns calories. To get your heart rate up, walk faster than a stroll. Picking up the pace can increase the intensity of your workouts. Add short bursts of speed or walk up an occasional steep hill. Find out how to use walking to improve your health.
There's been a surge in dance class memberships in recent years, no doubt inspired by shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Britain's Got Talent. One of the best things about dancing is that while you're having fun moving to music and meeting new people, you're getting all the health benefits of a good workout. From Ceroc to the foxtrot, there is a dance style to suit all tastes. Find out more about dancing for fitness.
Cycling is a low-impact activity. But you can still injure yourself if you have the wrong size bike or if the saddle and handlebars are at the wrong height. Cycling is an aerobic exercise that works your lower body and cardiovascular system. Start slowly and increase the length of your cycling sessions gradually. Get tips on cycling for fitness.
Swimming works the whole body. It's a great way to tone up and get trim. Swimming a few lengths involves most of the muscle groups and you'll get a good aerobic workout if you increase the pace. Swimming can also help you lose weight if you swim at a steady and continuous pace throughout your session. Read our guide to swimming for beginners.
Nordic walking is a full-body exercise that's easy on the joints and suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Classes range from gentle walks for people with health concerns to workout walks, which are a great way to improve fitness, lose weight and tone the whole body. It's a suitable activity for people with joint conditions or those who may be carrying some extra body weight. Find out more about getting started with Nordic walking.
Senior playgrounds are outdoor exercise areas equipped with machines specially designed to provide gentle exercise for different parts of the body, such as the hips, legs and torso. The playgrounds offer older people – who may find indoor gyms expensive and intimidating – the chance to exercise in a pleasant, peaceful and lycra-free environment. Contact your local authority to find out if there is a senior playground in your area. Watch a video about playgrounds for the over-60s.
Yoga can improve both your physical fitness and your general wellbeing through a series of postures and breathing exercises. Regular yoga practice helps develop strength, balance and flexibility. It also lifts your mood. Read a guide to yoga.
This ancient Chinese art promotes mental and physical wellbeing. Movements are slow and controlled. This means you won't improve your cardiovascular fitness or get a calorie-burning workout, but it does improve strength, flexibility and balance. Read a guide to tai chi.
Pilates focuses on rebalancing the body and improving posture through slow controlled movements and exercises. Regular practise can help you improve muscle strength and your overall sense of wellbeing. Pilates can be helpful for people who can't or must not jump around too much. Find a pilates class near you.
Improve your health and the environment at the same time with the outdoor alternative to the gym. Work up a sweat digging, planting, lopping and path clearing at one of 95 free Green Gyms around the country, run by the The Conservation Volunteers. Experienced leaders guide volunteers through a range of practical projects, giving you the opportunity to tackle physical jobs outdoors. Watch a video on Green Gyms.
You can enjoy bowls at any age and with no experience, and it can be played all year round. Although not the most energetic of games, bowls is good for posture, flexibility, balance and hand-eye co-ordination. If you're looking for a chance to keep active and socialise with people in your community, bowls is for you. Most clubs have bar and catering facilities, and you can take part in non-bowling activities as well, such as quiz nights and whist drives. Find out more about bowls and search for a bowls club near you.
Water aerobics is a low-impact activity. It requires a basic swimming ability as it's mostly done in water that's waist high or deeper. Aqua aerobic workouts use a variety of techniques taken from studio aerobics, including walking or running backwards and forwards, jumping jacks, various arm movements, and moves from cross-country skiing. Find an aqua aerobics class near you.