Wellness & Fitness

High or low impact exercise: Ready?


The impact cardio has on your body can vary significantly depending on the type of exercise you do. PHOTO | FREDRICK ONYANGO | NMG

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 they will place on 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?

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.