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Low-Impact Cardio Exercises
When your joints ache, meeting the recommended amount of moderate-intensity cardio exercise each week — 150 minutes— isn't easy. Running, dancing, tennis and step aerobics all cause too much pain to make the calorie burn truly worth it.
Luckily, there's plenty of cardio exercises that are low-impact, meaning they don't stress out your joints. After all, cardio simply means that it raises your heart rate and sustains it for a certain amount of time — both high- and low-impact exercise is equally effective. From walking to swimming to biking, low-impact cardio exercise will get your heart pumping and the calorie burning.
One thing to keep in mind: If you're seeking out low-impact activities because of a weight issue and you've been sedentary for a long time, talk to a doctor or trainer before picking up any exercise routine, just to make sure it's safe for you.
Working out in water lessens the effect of gravity on your joints.
Swim Like a Fish
Swimming benefits your body by boosting your heart rate, increasing muscle strength and improving flexibility, but it doesn't strain the joints because of the buoyancy of the water.
If you're not into swimming laps, water aerobics is just as an effective of a workout. This form of aerobics is 75 percent gentler on your joints than the land-based version, and a review of studies published in 2016 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found evidence that aquatic exercise has a beneficial effect on pain, disability and quality of life in people suffering from knee and hip osteoarthritis.
To start, aim for 30 minutes a day of water workouts. Just like on land, start with warm-up exercises, such as water walking or kicking. You can intensify your workout — when you feel ready — but adding handheld paddles when swimming laps.
Power up with Walking
When it comes to getting in cardio via walking, all you need is a good pair of sneakers and a safe neighborhood. A British Journal of Sports Medicine review of 42 studies involving more than 1,800 participants determined that walking regularly can significantly reduce high blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, body mass index and total cholesterol.
When walking for cardio exercise, use your entire body — including your arms by pumping them back and forth — to boost your heart rate and improve the efficacy of your entire workout.
Cycle It Out with Biking
Whether you use a stationary bike in the gym or hit the roads with an outdoor bicycle, cardio exercise through biking provides a good calorie-burn with very little impact on your joints. Not only does biking increase your heart rate, but it also builds muscle in your lower body, including the calves, thighs and glutes.
If you're totally new to biking, ask someone to help you to set up the equipment properly (whether you're on a stationary bike or buying a road bike). You can expect to feel a little sore in your rear end after a bike-riding session, but that pain will subside once your body gets used to it.
Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor based in central Maryland. Her clients have included Livestrong, School Nutrition magazine, What's Up? Media, American Academy of Clinical Chemistry, SmartBrief and more. She has a formal education in personal training/nutrition and a bachelor's degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.