High-impact cardio — think running, HIIT, CrossFit, plyometric circuits — tends to get most of the attention when it comes to weight loss, but we're here to tell you that low-impact cardio sessions have their place in your routine too.
"Low-impact exercise is easier on the joints and you can do it more frequently, regardless of your age or fitness level," said Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and Bowflex fitness advisor. It's true that high-impact cardio burns more calories and builds up your bone density, Tom said, "but that comes with a cost: a significant increase in stress on the body and chance of injury."
Low-impact cardio is a good choice if you're a beginner building up your strength and endurance, or if you're recovering from injury. But you have a few options when it comes to choosing a low-impact workout, so which one should you go for?
What's the Best Low-Impact Cardio For Fat Loss?
"The most effective form of low-impact cardiovascular exercise for fat loss is that which you do consistently," Tom told POPSUGAR. Which makes sense: high-impact cardio burns lots of calories in a short amount of time. To burn the same amount through low-impact exercise, you'll have to commit more time to the workouts. "Frequency becomes the most important factor," Tom explained, so the workout you can and want to do frequently will be the best one for fat loss.
You have some good options to choose from. Walking is the most popular form of low-impact cardio, Tom said, and it's been shown to be effective for fat loss. Swimming is another low-impact workout that can help you lose weight, especially with speed intervals — try this beginner's swim workout for a place to start. Zumba and the elliptical are also effective low-impact cardio workouts. Start with this 20-minute Zumba video or this cardio elliptical circuit for a taste. Experimenting with different kinds of low-impact cardio will help you find what you love, and the variety will keep you invested and excited to work out.
How Often Do I Need to Do Low-Impact Cardio to Burn Fat?
We mentioned the importance of working out frequently when you're doing low-impact exercise. So, exactly how often should you walk, swim, or hit the elliptical if the goal is weight loss? "As often as possible," Tom said. He recommended splitting up low-impact sessions throughout your day to get more minutes in. To get just under a full hour of exercise, for example, "you can do a 20-minute walk with the dogs in the morning, a 15-minute walk at lunch, and a 15-minute walk after dinner," Tom explained. With walking in particular, you can get in these "micro-workouts" without even going to the gym.
If your body is up to high-impact cardio right now, you can incorporate both forms of exercise into your weight-loss routine. Tom recommended the following weekly plan:
- Monday: low-impact, like this treadmill walking workout
- Tuesday: high-impact, like this 30-minute HIIT cardio video
- Wednesday: low-impact, like this swimming interval circuit
- Thursday: high-impact, like this 20-minute treadmill running workout
- Friday: low-impact, like this beginner's elliptical workout
- Saturday: low-impact, like this yoga-dance cardio video
- Sunday: rest
Since high-impact workouts put you at greater risk of injury, Tom said they're "generally not something you would want to do every day." If you're doing high-impact, mixing those workouts in with lower-impact routines will keep you healthy and engaged in all the different workouts, which will ultimately keep you on the path to weight loss.