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Low-Impact Exercises That Burn Major Calories

Easy-on-the-Joints Workouts That Really Deliver!

-- By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer
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If you're new to exercise, overweight, or dealing with pain caused by an injury or a chronic condition like arthritis, your doctor may have recommended that you start a low-impact workout program. But what does "low impact" really mean—and can it really help you burn enough calories to lose weight and get in shape?
 
For an exercise to be low impact, one foot must always be in contact with the ground or your weight must be supported by water or by a machine. So you've got plenty of options when it comes to choosing a low-impact workout—and that doesn't mean it has to be easy (unless you want it to be). The things you want to avoid are high-impact moves like running, jumping, skipping rope, plyometrics and dance workouts that involve leaping.
 
Here are 15 low-impact workouts you can try today, ranked by calorie burn (based on a 150-pound female exercising for 30 minutes). Remember, the amount of calories you will burn during a particular fitness routine is determined by several factors including your weight, gender and intensity level. You can calculate your individual calorie burn using SparkPeople's free Fitness Tracker.)

Be sure to "Pin" this graphic for future reference. Scroll below the graphic for details and tips for each type of exercise.


Kettlebell Class:  600 calories per half hour
Kettlebell classes combine strength training and cardio conditioning by using special spherical weights called kettlebells that you move in a swinging motion—and they're one of the highest calorie burners around. While kettlebell workouts are considered strength training, the moves are so intense (engaging many large muscle groups) that they also elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level simultaneously. If you're new to kettlebells, you'll want to get to class early and have the teacher explain proper form and technique. Spend the first part of the class watching the instructor carefully and only join in once you understand how each motion is supposed to be completed. These classes typically involve traditional strength-training movements like squats, presses and snatches, along with kettlebell-specific moves like swings, arranged in a circuit to boost the cardio burn. Because one or both feet are usually planted on the floor when using kettlebells, the closed-chain, low-impact movements are easy on the joints when done correctly.

Lap Swimming: 363 calories per half hour
Swimming is a great, no-impact exercise that maximizes calorie burn. You may feel awkward about wearing a bathing suit in public, but if you go early in the morning, you're likely to find a small group of people who are just like you. Start with a basic freestyle stroke (or crawl) that you likely learned as a child. You'll use all your major muscles including your back, shoulders, core and glutes to propel yourself through the water. Besides a supportive swim suit, you might want to consider buying a pair of goggles to protect your eyes from the chlorine (and so you can see where you're going). Water exercise has a host of benefits; in addition to being easy on the joints, people generally work harder in water without perceiving their workouts as intense, thanks to the water's cooling effects.
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About The Author

Megan Patrick Megan Patrick
Megan Lane Patrick has been a professional writer and editor for the past 16 years, and was a chronic dieter for at least 30. A combination of weight-loss surgery, mindful eating and daily exercise finally allowed her to maintain a weight loss of more than 100 pounds. When she's not lifting weights at the gym, you can find her walking shelter dogs as a volunteer for the SPCA.

Member Comments

  • SADDHU1 - It is off, because it's under. I'm 130lbs, and I burn 200cals in ten minutes. That would put me at 1800 for an hour. Kettlebells are an extremely efficient, strength building, and fat burning workout. Just because you don't know about a certain exercise, doesn't mean it can't burn more than you think it does. - 6/10/2014 1:25:12 PM
  • I don't get all these people who say that Zumba is not low-impact. It is as high or low impact as a person makes it. Show up early or stay late and ask your Zumba instructor for possible modifications to any high-impact moves, or simply look around in your class and notice other exercisers who come up with their own low-impact substitutions. For example instead of jumping, simply rise gently on the balls of the feet. Instead of twisting the knees in and out, just move the feet to the beat. Other people are in Zumba to get their own workout. They are not judging your modifications-- heck, some might even appreciate them and adopt them. - 10/9/2013 10:48:59 AM
  • Some of these calorie burning estimates are way off. A 150 lb woman burns 1200 cal per hr for Kettlebell class? Seriously? I would count that hr long class as burning 360-420 calories. SparkPeople should not contribute to the phenomena of people thinking their workout burns more calories than it does, a common fallacy that prevents weight loss. Working with correct numbers is a must! - 10/9/2013 10:40:41 AM
  • EMERALDISLES
    There is low impact zumba classes out there. What about rowing? That's low impact. - 8/22/2013 10:19:40 AM
  • Great to have things to try to help w/o aggravating my arthritis! TY :) - 7/27/2013 5:19:07 PM
  • Great article. However i am very skeptical about calorie burn information. I have been doing kettle bell workouts and never burned so much in 1 hour as they promise in 30 minutes. Same goes for other types of exercising. - 7/27/2013 11:08:44 AM
  • KBABYLOVE
    I wish there were some picture posted of chair exercise that I could do at work in my 8 hrs shift of sitting! =)
    - 7/26/2013 2:01:17 PM
  • Zumba is definitely not low impact. I suffer from back and knee pain and my doctor told me to stop doing zumba because it was making my problems much worse. Maybe I'll try a kettle bell class though, I didn't realize they burned so many calories. - 7/26/2013 9:15:40 AM
  • I don't consider many of these to be low impact for my health situation, but it I take the parts of each that I can do and go with that, then I see results. For instance I would not be able to last a zumba class, but put on a few oldies and dance with the parts of me that works, and I have a work out for as long as I can last. It would be low impact because I am not impacting those parts that could not stand up to the impact of harsh jumping or pounding. Throw in a few exercises to the beat and I have a pretty good work out, then add my recumbent bike and I have my program. - 6/29/2013 11:27:00 PM
  • I also love Zumba, but it can be very hard on the knees, lots of twisting. I have heard there are classes that are toned down for physical issues, but I have not found any in my area yet. I have substituted a Jazzercise Light (lower impact) for Zumba, so I can still dance for some cardio. - 6/29/2013 8:12:38 PM
  • CDARBY1999
    Love the article. Wish there were more articles geared toward men - 6/29/2013 4:28:11 PM
  • When you are overweight and have not been doing any or much exercise then every exercise seems hard! We live in northern Canada and a blackfly and bear area so we don't get out to walk like we would like to and have tons of snow in the winter.
    I find it easier and more convenient to walk or a slight jog in place for my daily routine especially to get me to start moving and exercise again. We all get too discouraged too fast! This really helps me! - 6/29/2013 12:11:29 PM
  • I agree Zumba is definitely NOT low impact. I love Zumba, but it takes DAYS for my ankles to recover. They swell up and look like tennis balls afterwards! I have had to switch to walking. I am thinking about a beginning spin class next week, though. - 6/29/2013 11:56:55 AM
  • I really should try kettlebells, too.
    - 6/29/2013 8:27:58 AM
  • "Of course boxing is low-impact. Low impact means only this:
    "[snip] at least one of your feet remains in contact with the ground at all times. "
    I've never seen boxers jump. ;) "

    Then you haven't seen many boxers, have you? Even the article itself states that you'd have to skip a lot of the moves in a boxing workout [jump rope, jumping jacks, hinge kicks]. Which kind of disqualifies it, in my opinion. - 6/29/2013 8:14:59 AM
Popular Calories Burned Searches: Biking/Cycling: > 32 km/h (1.8 minutes per km)  |  Running: 20 km/h (3 minutes per km)  |  Running: 15 km/h (4 minutes per km)