If you’re like me, you’ve probably dismissed the idea of “low-impact” exercise as something for seniors or people who can’t move well. In my mind, “low-impact” always meant “low effort,” and if I was going to spend time exercising, I wanted to be sore and sweaty and exhausted so that I knew I did “enough.”
If that sounds familiar, today’s post is for you.
We were wrong! As it turns out, low-impact cardio is actually great, especially now that so many of us are stuck at home.
What Low-impact Is & What It Isn’t
First of all, let’s talk about what low-impact cardio means.
Fitness experts define low-impact cardio as anything that keeps at least one foot on the ground and doesn’t put stress on your joints. This includes walking, yoga, and biking, but it also includes Pilates, Zumba, barre, and even bodyweight squats.
Low-impact doesn’t mean low-intensity, and it also doesn’t necessarily mean low effectiveness, either. For an example of what I mean, try doing a full Pilates workout video. It looks simple, but your muscles will be as wobbly as if you’d done HIIT or burpees.
The purpose of low-impact exercise is to allow you to burn calories, tone your body, improve your balance, and get all of the benefits of movement without the risk of injury and joint stress that comes with more intense workouts.
I do think it’s important to mention here that high-impact and high intensity aren’t bad, and they definitely do burn more calories on average. Low-impact isn’t a replacement for other workouts, but it’s a great complement to intense activities, and it’s perfect for people who want to ease back into fitness.
There’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to finding low-impact exercises that work for you, so the most important thing to remember is that it might take a little bit of experimenting before you find something fun. Don’t give up!
How to Add Low-impact Cardio to Your Day
When I originally planned this article, I was assuming I would be giving you tips on how to sneak in a little bit of low-impact exercise while at the office or between running errands. But with so many of us working from home and not able to go to the gym or get outside much, I think it’s more important than ever to help you figure out how to incorporate more movement and cardio into your day.
Here are three things to remember when you’re trying to be more active at home.
1. You don’t have to get sweaty
Should you do some tough, sweaty workouts during the week? Yes, absolutely. Pushing through a hard workout is as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health!
However, you don’t have to break a sweat to get some low-impact cardio in. While you’re taking a break, waiting on a conference call, or cooking lunch, you can stand up and do a quick round of knee lifts or barre exercises. You can even turn on a pop song and bust out some Zumba moves (or club moves from your college days — I won’t tell!).
The point is to increase your heart rate for just a few minutes. It’s not enough to make you too sweaty for that video meeting, but it’s enough to make you feel like you did some work.
2. You can get creative
There are so many things you can do to get in a few minutes of movement and get your heart rate up throughout the day. It just takes some creativity and a willingness to look a bit silly.
Try perfecting your squat form while you unload the dishwasher, or challenge yourself to lunge (carefully!) upstairs when you’re toting laundry to the bedroom. You can even do a few quick bicep curls with the heavy trash bags when you’re emptying the garbage!
I do all of these things, but my favorite way to get in some exercise is to do calf and glute toning barre moves while I’m in the kitchen. You can also do these with the back of your office chair or a bookshelf while you work. Trust me, you’ll feel the burn!
3. You can have fun while you work out
For me, one of the worst parts of a workout is how boring it can feel. Even if I’m listening to music, time often feels like it’s crawling by. The one great advantage I’ve found to working out at home is the options I have to distract myself while I’m exercising.
When I’m doing dedicated workouts, I like to find a funny podcast or an interesting audiobook. I’ve actually learned that I’ll do more sets and reps just to keep listening if I’ve really gotten into the story!
If you want to add a few minutes of exercise to lazy days, remember that you can transform couch time into cardio time. You can even turn it into a game: Every time a new episode is about to auto-play, see how many squats you can get in. Whenever Netflix asks if you’re still watching, stop and hold a plank for as long as you can before you click “yes.” If there’s an episode recap or opening credits, do as many mountain climbers as you can before the show starts.
If you’re quarantined with friends, siblings, or family members, you can include them in your games, too! Keep score and award yourselves prizes (like an extra cookie or a funny handmade certificate) to keep from going stir-crazy.
Keep It Low-key
The best piece of advice I can give you is this: The most effective exercise is the kind that you can do consistently.
You don’t have to carve out a big chunk of time each day, and you don’t have to do the same boring things over and over. Whatever you can do is good enough! Just remember to get up and move as often as you can to stay healthy and sane while you’re self-isolating.