Stay fit, strong, and injury-free with these joint-friendly exercise options.
In search of workouts that will burn calories and build muscle without hammering your joints? Smart. Everyone can benefit from adding low-impact workouts to their weekly routine.
With age, joints naturally become stiffer, and bones get weaker. But skipping exercise altogether actually makes the problem worse. In fact, if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, staying active is one of the best things you can do for your joints and bones.
Even if you’re very fit and love high-impact exercise, it’s a good idea to mix in low-impact workouts to your rotation. A variety of activities will challenge your body in different ways and help you avoid overuse injuries.
Here are eight low-impact workouts that can help you stay strong for the long haul.
As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Low-Impact Workout #1: Tai Chi
Often described as “meditation in motion,” tai chi is a slow, gentle workout that improves strength, flexibility, and coordination. For older adults, tai chi can be particularly effective for building balance and helping prevent falls. But that’s not all.
“Tai chi is a traditional Chinese practice that involves both physical and mental exercise,” says Dan Go, C.P.T., a personal trainer in Toronto. In addition to learning specific postures and movements, you’ll work on your breathing and focus.
Another reason to love tai chi: It’s generally safe and adaptable for people of all fitness levels, including those with chronic conditions. Research has shown it can improve quality of life in people with chronic pain, lung disease, and heart failure.
Try it: Practice slow, flowing, low-impact movements with SilverSneakers EnerChi, which is available through SilverSneakers LIVE.
Low-Impact Workout #2: Indoor Cycling
Like regular biking, indoor cycling is a heart-pumping, calorie-burning cardio workout. And because you’re off your feet and not bearing the weight of your body, it limits the stress on your joints.
“It’s a good way to prevent irritating knee and hip pains,” says Jake Boly, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer in New York City.
You can do it on your own on a recumbent bike, stationary bike, or various other cycling machines at the gym. Or you can take an indoor cycling class.
No matter which you choose, keep in mind that each machine may be slightly different, and getting the setup right is key for a safe, effective workout. If it’s your first time on a new machine, read the instructions that are typically posted on it, or ask gym staff or the instructor for help.
Try it: Get started with our beginner’s guide to the recumbent bike.
Low-Impact Workout #3: Water Aerobics
Both water aerobics and swimming have long been touted as excellent low-impact activities—and for good reason. Moving in water supports your joints and provides resistance to your muscles. And whether you’re having fun in water aerobics class or swimming laps, you’ll get a great cardio workout.
If you have arthritis or are recovering from an injury, don’t be surprised if your doctor suggests pool-based workouts. After a fall-related injury, for example, “I’ve often recommended ‘aqua-sizing,’” says Thomas Weida, M.D., a geriatrician and chief medical officer at the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences.
Have a significant amount of weight you’d like to lose? Here’s a secret from the SilverSneakers community: Walk in water. It’s easier on the feet, knees, and hips than walking on land.
Try it: SilverSneakers Splash is a water aerobics class that’s safe for non-swimmers.
Low-Impact Workout #4: Yoga
“Yoga is a great low-impact exercise that helps build a strong core and improve balance,” Boly says. “These are essential as we age, so we can reduce the likelihood of serious injury from falls or other missteps.”
You don’t have to be strong or flexible to start. There are many types of yoga, from gentle forms like restorative yoga to more challenging ones like vinyasa.
In fact, you can even do yoga while sitting in a chair—and it’s effective. Two 45-minute sessions of chair yoga each week can reduce pain in adults with osteoarthritis, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Try it: SilverSneakers Yoga, which is available through SilverSneakers LIVE, is a beginner-friendly class that improves flexibility, balance, and range of movement. You can use a chair for support. Plus, check out these five yoga poses every older adult should know.
Low-Impact Workout #5: Walking
Walking is hard to beat when it comes to staying active every day. And for many people, it provides just the right amount of impact: enough to keep your bones strong, but not so much that you hurt yourself.
When you walk on a treadmill, on a track, or around your neighborhood, you’re doing a weight-bearing activity, which means your body has to support its own weight against gravity. These types of exercises help slow mineral loss in your bones.
But walking is not as hard on your bones and joints—that is, doesn’t have as much impact—as running.
Any amount of walking is a good start, even if it’s five minutes. As you get stronger, aim to walk longer and more often.
Low-Impact Workout #6: Pilates
Pilates is often lumped in with yoga, but it’s a different exercise system. Both incorporate body alignment, gentle movement, and breathing techniques—all of which can be helpful for creaky joints. But Pilates has a stronger emphasis on core strength.
“As we get older, it becomes more important to strengthen our core muscles to support our spine,” Go says. “Pilates offers a low-impact but effective way to build a solid, functional body at any age.”
Try it: Pick one or more exercises from this Pilates workout for a stronger core.
Low-Impact Workout #7: TRX Suspension Training
You’ll recognize TRX (a.k.a. “total resistance exercise”) by its black and yellow straps that are typically hanging against a wall or pillar in your gym. It looks intimidating, but it’s a low-impact workout that uses gravity and your own bodyweight to develop strength.
“Suspension training is a safe way to get your strength training in, and a great benefit is that it strengthens your core,” Go says. “It also provides more proprioception, or body awareness, allowing you to exert more control over your body.”
In many ways, it can even make an exercise easier. For example, if bodyweight squats are challenging, you might like a TRX-assisted squat. You’ll hold the straps, which give you support as you squat down and stand back up.
As with any new equipment, it can help to take a class or ask for help from a pro at first. Once you learn how to lengthen and shorten the straps properly, you’ll be able get moving on your own.
Try it: Pick one or more TRX exercises in the video below.
Low-Impact Workout #8: Elliptical
If the treadmill puts too much stress on your legs, you may like the elliptical. “As the elliptical glides back and forth, it minimizes the impact on the lower extremities and back due to its ski-like motion,” Boly says.
That said, the elliptical can put your body in a fixed position that may not be natural for your body alignment. As always, read the instructions or ask gym staff for help when trying a new machine, and prioritize setting the machine up correctly every time.
Try it: Follow these steps to make your elliptical workout safer and more effective.
Take Your Favorite SilverSneakers Classes Online!
SilverSneakers members can access live fitness classes and wellness workshops through SilverSneakers LIVE. See the latest schedule and RSVP for classes here.
Not a member? If you have a Medicare Plan, it may include SilverSneakers—at no additional cost. Check your eligibility instantly here.