One of the many questions we get is regarding what kind of exercises one should do. Here is a simplified way to look at general exercises available according to the demands it will place on to your body.

The impact cardio has on your body can vary significantly depending on the type of exercise you do. In this context, “impact” can be defined as the amount of force exerted on your bones and joints during physical activity. Understanding the difference between low-impact and high-impact exercise is crucial for managing injuries and achieving specific training goals.

There are different levels of impact:

No-impact, where your feet don’t leave the ground (like swimming or the elliptical trainer)
Low-impact, which involves activities where at least one foot is still on the ground (like walking)
High-impact, where both feet are off the ground at the same time (like running or plyometrics)

What is high-impact exercise?

High Impact Exercise

As the name suggests, high-impact exercises are movements that put a high level of impact on your joints. High-impact exercises tend to involve a lot of jumping and jolting movements, which often involve both of your feet coming off the ground at the same time. These movements can put a lot of force on your bones and joints when you land.
Some common examples of high impact exercises include:

  • Running
  • Football
  • Tennis
  • Gymnastics
  • Jumping rope
  • Burpees


  • Gets your heart rate up more quickly so you burn more calories during exercise
  • Improves your stability, balance, and coordination
  • Strengthens your heart and lungs
  • Research shows that high-impact exercises such as sprinting are also beneficial for the health of your bones. It might sound somewhat counterintuitive, but applying stress to your bones actually helps improve bone density.


High-impact movements create a force equal to about 2.5 times your bodyweight, which can put a lot of stress on your joints, ligaments and tendons.

  • This can increase the risk of both acute and overuse injuries.
  • Can be painful for people with joint problems or arthritis
  • High-impact exercise is not suitable for older people, whose bones and joints are naturally more susceptible to damage, as well as people with existing joint problems or arthritis.

Talk to your physiotherapist to learn more about how you can safely engage in high-impact exercises.

What is low-impact exercise?

At the other end of the spectrum, we have low-impact exercise. These movements apply less force to your joints and are generally more gentle on your body. Low-impact exercises can be adapted to suit all levels of fitness, making them suitable for a wide range of people.
Any movement that is gentle on the joints or can be performed in a fluid motion is considered low impact. Some common examples of low-impact exercises include:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Elliptical cardio/ cross trainer
  • Walking
  • Pilates


  • Low-impact exercise is generally safer and carries less risk of injury than high-impact exercise.
  • The gentle nature of low-impact exercise makes it an excellent option for individuals who are new to working out, as well as athletes who are injured or in the recovery process.
  • In addition, many low-impact exercises focus on developing flexibility, which can be useful for trainees whose goals are centered around balance and stability rather than power.
  • Lastly, low-impact exercises can be used as a form of active recovery that you can engage in on your rest days without over-exerting when should you switch to low impact exercise?
  • If you’ve suffered an injury or have come down with an illness, low-impact exercise is an excellent way to maintain your fitness and get your body moving without putting too much stress on your joints.

However, it’s important to remember that high-impact exercise shouldn’t be feared. In fact, many trainees find that the best results come from using a combination of low- and high-impact exercises. Low-impact exercises can be used to improve posture, develop your core and strengthen the muscles that support your joints and prepare them for more intense, higher-impact movements. Meanwhile, high-impact movements are excellent for building power, improving cardiovascular conditioning and burning calories more efficiently.

Written By:
Joy Waihenya
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

High Impact or Low Impact Exercise?

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