High intensity aerobic exercise – or cardio – keeps your heart healthy, improves your fitness and can reduce your risk of chronic disease. It also burns calories and releases endorphins that lift mood and help relieve pain.
But running to the gym every day isn’t always an option for everyone. As we get older, or if we’re living with an injury, illness, disability or limited mobility, high impact exercises that involve jumping and pounding on the ground may not be the best way to keep ourselves fit and healthy.
The good news is, there are plenty of activities that can be done at high intensity while remaining low impact. Here are a handful of exercises to try that are gentle on your joints, good for your heart, and may even expand your social network.
1. Lawn bowls
The quiet achiever of sports, lawn bowls has become increasingly popular with people of all ages as a way to increase strength, flexibility and coordination. Frequent lunging builds leg and core strength and, if you have a competitive streak, training for a multi-week tournament will get you into peak shape. Joining a bowls club also provides wonderful social benefits, with access to a range of other group activities.
2. Water aerobics/swimming
Aquatic exercise offers the power-combo of cardio plus resistance training. Not only will you churn through calories and increase your heart rate, you’ll also be building muscle mass with virtually no impact. And if that doesn’t convince you, studies have found swimming to be more effective than walking or running at slowing the ageing process. Try aquarobics, water yoga or pilates, or ai chi – aquatic tai chi – for something a little different.
3. Ballroom dancing
Even if you have two left feet, ballroom dancing can fill you with mood-lifting endorphins, improve your balance and spatial awareness, strengthen your bones,and burn calories. It’s also a wonderful social activity and has been found to foster self-confidence and increase wellbeing. Casual swing, line or square dancing classes are a great way to start. If you don’t have someone to go with, that’s okay – you’ll be partnered with a new friend on the night.
4. Bike riding
In addition to being an environment-loving mode of transport, bike riding offers great cardio benefits while being gentle on joints and preserving cartilage. Whether done outdoors or on an exercise bike, cycling can help reduce body fat and strengthen your thighs, hips and butt – and if you include hills, it will work your arms and upper body. Riding is also a wonderful way to explore national parks or your own neighbourhood. Just make sure you stick to designated bike paths, obey traffic rules and stay safe.
5. Hula hooping
No longer just for kids, hula hooping has had a major resurgence thanks to its core strengthening, calorie busting and circulation stimulating benefits. Considered almost no impact, hula hooping tones the whole body and, due to its repetitive rhythm, can have a meditative effect. To get started, look for a hoop that reaches to your navel when standing on its side.
You don’t have to be on a business lunch to reap the benefits of a stroll around the links. Exposure to the natural greenery of a golf course can relax the body, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety. Swinging the clubs can also increase mobility and build muscle tone, and if you ditch the golf cart, you’ll walk between five and seven kilometres every time you play a round of 18 holes.