Your health and safety is our top priority. Get COVID-19 & vaccine information and see our visitor policy.

5 Low-Impact Exercises That Burn Major Calories

Low-impact exercises can be a great option for people who are new to exercise or haven’t done it in a while; suffer from arthritis; are older in age, overweight, or pregnant; or have back, bone, or joint problems.

They may also be done by people who need a break from the wear and tear of high impact workouts like running or contact sports.

Why Low-impact Exercises Are Good for You  

Low-impact exercises are good because they aren’t as hard on your body. If your physical conditioning isn’t the best or your body can’t handle the jolting of running or bouncing, low-impact activities can be a solution to help you get or stay active.

Biking, elliptical machines, step aerobics, swimming, walking, and yoga are examples of low-impact exercises. What makes them low-impact is the motion your body goes through while doing them – one of your feet always stays on the ground.

Despite the word “low,” don’t be fooled. Low-impact exercises can still get your heart pumping and help you burn calories, workout your body, and lose weight.

Good Low-impact Exercises 

To put the below calorie expenditures in perspective, if a 140 pound woman ran at 5 mph for 45 minutes on a level surface, she can burn about 450 calories.

  1. Walking engages almost every muscle in your body.  Walk at a gym, around your neighborhood, or at a local park. If walking on a level surface is easy for you, walk up a hill or at a faster pace.  (A 140-lb woman walking at 3.5 mph for 45 minutes on a level surface can burn about 181 calories).
  2. Cycling can be done at your local gym, outside with a bicycle, or in your home if you have a stationary bike. Be sure the bike you’re using is properly fitted to you to avoid knee pain.  Cycling groups or stationary cycling classes can be great options to add variety and a social aspect to your workouts.  (About 381 calories are burned when biking on a level surface at a moderate pace for 45 minutes).
  3. Elliptical machines keep both of your feet on the “ground” while working out a variety of muscle groups.  Most elliptical machines have arm components that move to increase the intensity of your workout. Note: Leaning on the arm components instead of moving them back-and-forth can reduce the number of calories you burn. (About 333 calories are burned at a moderate pace for 45 minutes on an elliptical).
  4. Swimming uses all of your muscle groups making it a great full body workout. It can be especially easy on your body if you have arthritis or joint pain. Mix things up by timing yourself to see how long it takes you to swim a certain number of laps or get involved in water aerobics classes. (About 333 calories are burned when swimming freestyle at a moderate pace for 45 minutes).
  5. Step aerobics/yoga/Zumba classes add variety and suit people who like group settings. When starting, be sure to have the instructor check you for proper technique to avoid injury.  (About 350 calories are burned while performing Zumba for 45 minutes).

Increasing the Cardiovascular Benefits

To get more heart-health benefits from your low-impact exercises, you need to raise your heart rate. This can be done by increasing the speed you’re moving, going uphill or up stairs, or making sure that your arms are moving with the rest of your body.

To find the estimated target heart rate that you want to hit during your workout, check out this table from the American Heart Association. (Note: The figures are averages.)

Stay Committed and Be Smart

Being physically active comes with its own set of challenges for each person. But if there’s one thing that’s true for us all – being physically active has tremendous health benefits. It can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of diseases, manage stress levels, improve your mood, and much more.

So find activities that you enjoy and that feel good on your body and get moving. Remember to take it slow in the beginning and build your way up. Over exerting yourself or putting unrealistic demands on your body is certain to make your exercising routine short-lived.

If you have any concerns about starting a new exercise routine, or if you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, or pain while exercising, stop and talk to your doctor.

Amanda Everts, LAT, MS

Meet the Author

Amanda Everts, LAT, MS is an Athletic Trainer at Aurora Lake Geneva and Badger High School in Lake Geneva, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

Get engaging health and wellness insights emailed to you daily.

Check it out now

Recent Posts

Know the Difference: Heart Attack vs. Heart Failure

Surprising Heart Health Risks of 1 Cigarette a Day

8 Ways to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Find a Doctor Find a Location


Vaccine Update

We're vaccinating anyone 12 and older in Illinois and Wisconsin. Schedule an appointment or walk in at select vaccine centers.