6 of the best low impact sports

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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25 January 2019

1 – Walking

Walking is first on my list of low impact sports for very good reason! You don’t need any fancy equipment, it doesn’t cost any money and it doesn’t even require any transport, as would be the case with a number of other activities. Simply put on some comfy trainers, clothes and possibly a rain jacket (especially if you live in the UK!) and then get out into the fresh air. 

Walking is considered a cardiovascular activity meaning it gets the heart and lungs working in order to supply the muscles with oxygen-rich blood. The muscles need this oxygen in order to move effectively. That being said, a light stroll will not have these effects so remember to keep your walk at a moderate pace to raise the heart rate – you should be feeling breathless.

Walking for beginners – get a few friends together and start off with a few short walks each week. You could do half an hour at lunch time for example, or head out after dinner for the same amount of time. If that’s not feasible then just do ten minutes each day – a quick walk to the shops instead of driving is ideal. 

For those more experienced - do one 10k walk a week and then a few 5k walks in between. Alternatively, join a walking group where you can stick to a regular walking routine. 

Try something different - walking football is growing in popularity, plus it has a social aspect too. 

2 – Swimming

A few laps of your local swimming pool will offer a good all round workout without over-doing any muscle or joint in particular. The water also supports your body as you swim meaning it is a non-weight-bearing activity. This makes it a good option if, for any reason, you suffer from stiff or painful joints. It also means that the activity is something that can be done over the course of your lifetime and you needn’t stop as you get older. 

Swimming stretches the muscles in the arms, torso and legs, whilst also building on strength and flexibility. If you keep swimming regularly, in a fairly short space of time you should be able to see a difference in terms of your overall fitness levels as swimming improves stamina too. 

Swimming for beginners – most pools offer beginner swimming lessons for adults, usually on a one-to-one basis to build confidence and skill. If you know how to swim but haven’t done it in a while then don’t expect to pick up where you left off. Set yourself a reasonable but still challenging aim, say 30-50 lengths once a week, and then gradually do some more each time you go. 

For those more experienced – swimming clubs are very popular, even amongst adults. Masters swimming, for example, is a club for over 18s in England. It involves competitive swimming, as well as more casual swimming for those who want to hone their skills.  

Try something different – take your water workout one step further with an activity like water aerobics or aqua jogging. The latter has the same benefits as running but doesn’t have the impact of hitting the pavement. To do this you would use a floatation belt to keep you above the water.

3 – Cycling

Cycling is a gentle workout that doesn’t involve any heavy impact on the joints, nor does it put the body under too much stress.  Like fast paced walking, cycling is considered a cardiovascular activity as it benefits the heart and lungs, plus it works lots of different muscles. 

In order to get the most out of cycling, the NHS recommends that we do 150 minutes a week.1 You could achieve this by cycling to work, taking trips at the weekend on the UK’s extensive cycle network, or by peddling in your local gym or spin class.

Cycling for beginners – You can find a list of qualified cycle instructors in your area using The National Cycling Charity’s website. Alternatively, Cycling UK have a range of tips on how to teach an adult to ride a bike, as well as individual stories about how people have gone about it

For those more experienced – check out the cycling clubs in your area and enjoy meeting new people and cycling to new places.

Try something different – Pedal for Scotland organise an annual cycle from Glasgow to Edinburgh on closed roads. It is a big challenge but it is also a lot of fun!

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4 – An exercise class

Exercise classes like yoga and tai chi are taken at a slow and relaxing pace meaning they offer another option for those seeking a low impact sport. These activities also build on strength and flexibility the longer you do them.  

The benefits of yoga in particular, though, go beyond fitness. Research shows that just three months of yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression because the activity helps to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.2  

Try something different – laughter yoga has been around for over 20 years and is based on the belief that laughing benefits both our body and our mind. It is definitely quite unique!  

5 – Golf

Golf is considered a low impact sport as it doesn’t involve too many hard-hitting movements as would be the case in running for example, or football.  

A round of golf has the benefit of being outdoors, plus it involves plenty of walking which, as I’ve already explained, has a positive impact on our health. There is also a social aspect to it with golf clubs up and down the country.

The research surrounding golf is also very positive. A recent Scottish study found it to have a positive impact on cardiovascular and respiratory health, plus it improved issues such as depression and anxiety. It also found that golfers burnt a minimum of 500 calories over 18 holes and covered 4-8 miles in this time. Impressive!

Try something different – not quite up to a round of 18 holes? Take a visit to your local driving range or arrange a round of putting with friends to hone your skills.

6 – Dance

From hip-hop to ballet, as a low impact sport, dance brings many benefits to our health and wellbeing.  It maintains strong bones, builds muscle strength, helps co-ordination and improves posture and balance. 

This particular activity is fun and creative however, you don’t even need to do it with the guidance of an instructor or class. Just put on some music and get moving in your living room! 

Try something different – salsa and belly dancing are just a few of the more unusual varieties of dance. Check out what classes are available in your area!  


1 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/cycling-health-benefits/ 

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16319785/ 

3 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-37567254  

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