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The Best Low-Impact Sports for a Healthy Start at Any Age

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As time goes on, we come to realize that our bodies continue to change too. Whether due to a strenuous workout or overdoing it in a new weekend sport, we might start finding that our joints are creaking a bit more or our joints are feeling a bit stiffer than usual. It’s only natural, and those aches and pains that you’ve noticed sneaking into your life certainly aren’t an insurmountable barrier to staying fit and healthy. On the contrary, it simply means that you must adapt your training efforts to account for your changing body. Below is a list of low-impact sports that can be incorporated into your fitness efforts to help you stay healthy and fully functional throughout your years and can be started at any age.

What Does “Low-Impact Exercise” Actually Mean?

Before we look at the best low-impact sports, let’s determine what “low-impact” really means. At their core, low-impact workouts are generally less difficult on and for the body, especially our joints, and can be a great way to reduce the risk of injury and still get in a heart-pumping workout. Although not always the case, most fitness experts and trainers define low-impact exercises as motions or workouts where you keep one foot on the ground at all times. For instance, walking is the low-impact version of running, because when you run, you make a jump-like movement, and you don’t do this motion when you walk. Regular squats are low-impact, while jumping squats are high-impact, because when you jump, there is more impact on your joints as you land on the ground. One exception to the “one foot on the ground” rule is in the case of swimming: Swimming takes the pressure off of your joints while you’re in the water, but you may not always have one foot on the ground if you’re doing laps, for example.

What Are the Benefits of Low-Impact Exercise?

Whether you’re recovering from illness or surgery, dealing with the aches and pains of aging, suffering from joint pain, or simply want to try something new, keep in mind that low-impact doesn’t necessarily have to mean low-intensity. Since low-impact exercises put less strain on your joints, you can build strength and endurance without injuring yourself. They are also easy to adapt to your preferred level of intensity, and they can improve your balance and flexibility while giving you a great strength or cardiovascular workout. Low-impact exercises are also an excellent type of cross-training that use different athletic abilities and muscle groups, resulting in greater overall form and fitness at any age.

Are Low-Impact Sports Dangerous for Middle-Aged or Older Bodies?

Any type of exercise or workout poses some degree of risk or injury. You can trip while walking. You can pull a muscle while swimming. You can strain your shoulders while rowing. However, the risk of injury for low-impact sports is quite minimal compared to high-impact workouts and should not deter you from pursuing a healthy lifestyle, regardless of your age. There are some things you can do, though, to minimize this risk. In our lifetime of sports and sports enthusiasts that live with and work at SportPort, we have seen, and experienced, our share of fractures, torn ligaments, and other sports-related injuries. It can be important to consider wearing sports-appropriate protective gear such as padded guards for your elbows, knees, and wrists as well as helmets or other safety wear. Whether you are getting back into a sport after a decades-long hiatus or you are trying a new low-impact sport for the first time, it is critical to pace yourself and gradually increase your activity to avoid injury. Try not to overexert yourself, recognize your body’s signs of exhaustion, and take breaks whenever necessary.

What are some of the Best Low-Impact Sports?

You’ll find classes or clubs in many sports through gyms, local groups, and specialty facilities such as indoor rock-climbing halls, tennis centers, or skating rinks. While you’re taking lessons or trying your new low-impact sport for the first time, you should also be working on building your overall endurance, strength, and flexibility. Choose an activity that’s kind to your body but still gives you a good workout. Sports that involve pounding, twisting, or jumping can be tough on your joints, so opt for gentler, kinder choices such as:

 Rowing: Since you sit for the duration of the exercise, rowing is a great choice for those with joint problems. Whether you are out on a lake or river or in your local gym, rowing provides an all-over workout. It also aerobically strenuous since you have to move your upper body to make the rowing motion or wield the oars that propel you.

 Cycling: This sport offers a great workout for the lungs and heart while also taxing the leg muscles. However, because the effort is smooth and uses the pedals to create the effort, there is no impact on the joints.

 In-line skating: The motion of in-line skating or rollerblading is smooth, so you benefit from a good aerobic workout that strengthens the lungs and heart without pressure on the joints. Once you get into a rhythm, in-line skating can be fast or slow, and the forward motion provides a highly effective, low-impact exercise.

 Cross-country skiing: At competitive levels, cross-country skiing burns many, many calories. But even if you take it easy, it’s a great workout for the entire body that involves every major muscle without over-stressing any one group, meaning you can ski for hours without hurting your joints.

 Swimming: Since the water supports your full body weight, swimming is one of the best low-impact exercises you can do, and it offers an excellent workout for both the lungs and the muscles. Those with bad joints should focus on their front crawl and backstroke rather than breaststroke as the kick can place some stress on the outside of the knees.

 Water aerobics: Similar to swimming, water aerobics uses the water to support your full body throughout the exercise, meaning your joints are entirely supported. Aerobics is typically performed in groups and to music, making it an ideal choice if you enjoy a more social experience and like to exercise in a group.

 Tai chi or yoga: Yoga is a fantastic way to strengthen the muscles around your joints, while tai chi offers an ideal combination of flexibility training and balance training. Both are excellent for developing a greater inner calm.

 Walking and hiking: Two low-impact aerobic exercises that are easy for almost anyone to do, you can make your walk or hike more fun by adding in a personal challenge such as completing 20 to 25 miles per week. Or change up your environment and go to a nearby park or beach instead of your neighborhood. Other easy ways to include walking and hiking include choosing the stairs instead of the elevator and parking in the farthest spot away from your destination.

Other effective low-impact sports include snowshoeing, deep-water running, and horseback riding, and no matter your age, the best type of low-impact exercise is the one you enjoy doing the most. After all, if you dread working out, are you really going to stick with it in the long run? Still, when trying any of the many forms of low-impact exercise out there, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what you need and want to get out of your workout. The number-one priority should be in maintaining your quality of life both inside and outside of the gym. To do that, focus on the proper sports and workouts that are designed to help you stay mobile, build strength, and improve your body’s stability and balance at any age and for all ages!

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