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A Guide to Low-impact and Beginner-Friendly Exercises

by Voices Wellness 17 Jun 2021
Photo: Unsplash

If you’re new to working out, start with low-impact exercises to protect your joints as you gradually build up the intensity. By SAMANTHA FRANCIS.

For those just starting out on their fitness journey, a good way to stay motivated is by picking exercises at the right level of intensity—where you feel challenged enough but not overwhelmed. Even if you’ve got a regular workout regime, it’s nice to give your body a break from pounding the pavement and sweating it out at high-intensity interval training by slotting in a low-impact, recovery workout.

According to the American Sports and Fitness Association, low-impact exercises are defined as exercises that have a low impact on your joints. Usually, a foot stays on the ground at all times during these exercises but that’s not to say your only option is to keep doing single-leg balances or single-leg deadlifts. Gentle or fluid motions that build strength and flexibility can in the long run build endurance for high-impact workouts too.

Photo: Unsplash

That said, low impact doesn’t always mean it’s low intensity as low-impact activities such as cycling can be as cardio-intensive as running. The intensity of a workout is measured as a percentage of your maximum heart rate, which reflects how hard your body is working during an exercise. The effort required in a workout is calculated in terms of heart rate and oxygen expenditure.

For beginners, high-intensity low impact (HILIT) workouts are a great way to get the heart rate up, burn calories, and improve cardio fitness while protecting you from joint pain and injury. These combine the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts with the safer and gentler aspects of a low-impact exercise. When in doubt, start at a lower intensity before building your way up.

Here are some low-impact options to consider.


Probably the most popular low-impact exercise, walking not only works the cardiovascular system but also burns calories. If gentle strolls aren’t your thing, consider picking up the pace and speed walking to get your heart rate up. Alternatively, try walking up a steep hill to increase leg muscle activation or add short bursts of speed to your pace. To calm the mind, try walking in a nature park or a lush garden.

Photo: Unsplash


Unless you’re talking about mountain biking where you navigate undulating slopes, cycling is generally considered a low-impact sport. Anaerobic exercise that works your lower body and cardiovascular system, cycling is gentle on the back, knees, hips, and ankles, while strengthening your legs and glutes. Beginners can opt for a stationary bike indoors or pedal on a bike path or flat road outdoors. To build endurance, start to gradually increase the length of your rides.


Don’t fancy sweating? Swimming is a great exercise for toning up as a few laps will work most of your muscle groups while being gentle on your joints. To increase the aerobic aspect, simply increase the pace. Most swim strokes allow you to build resistance from the water, while backstroke will strengthen your back muscles. Meanwhile, maintaining a steady and continuous pace throughout your session can help with weight loss.

Photo: Unsplash


Slow, graceful, and controlled, the movements in this Chinese martial arts can promote mental and physical wellbeing when practiced regularly. Safe for all ages and fitness levels, tai chi can improve aerobic capacity, balance, and agility. Differing from other forms of exercises, tai chi is practiced with relaxed rather than tensed muscles, with movements led by your natural inhales and exhales


Yoga can range from gentle restorative stretches to an endurance-building Hatha practice with static poses or a cardio-intensive Vinyasa-style flow class. Beginners can consider a basic Hatha class that focuses on classic asanas (postures) and breathing exercises to set the foundation right. A low-impact yoga practice can improve balance and flexibility, as well as lift your mood.

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