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The positive effect of low impact exercises on heart health

Jo Waters
Article written by Jo Waters

Date published 17 July 2019

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Seven million people are living with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the UK. To keep your heart and circulatory system healthy you need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise such as running, swimming or cycling, or a combination of the two, every week.

On top of that, you also need to do strength sessions (using resistance such as your body weight or weights), to work all the major muscles in the body, on two additional days.

Why low-impact exercise is still good for your heart

If you're worried about injuring your joints doing high-impact sports such as running and military fitness workouts, opt for low-impact activities such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling, yoga and ballroom dancing. Studies suggest these are just as effective in lowering your risk of heart disease as higher-impact forms of working out.2


A six-year study that looked at 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers found that walking can lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running.3

You can gain additional fitness benefits by varying the intensity and distance you walk and approaching walking as you would a work out. Apply the same principles as you would to any training programme, walking fast/slow intervals, or going for long slow walks - vary what you do. Walk fast enough to raise your heart rate at a moderate pace faster than a stroll. The 10,000 steps a day goal is still a standard recommendation for health.4

Working out in water

Swimming is a great way to burn calories, fat, and improve flexibility and core strength, as well as being good for heart health. One study found swimmers, along with runners and walkers, fared better than sedentary people when blood pressure, cholesterol levels, maximum energy output, and other measures of cardiovascular health were considered.5

If you find swimming lengths boring, try aqua aerobics classes or aqua jogging, where you jog in the pool at the deep end wearing a buoyancy belt, a flotation aid that keeps you upright. This allows you to work the muscles you use when running on land without the impact.


Just two short cycling trips of 30 minutes a day will benefit your heart health, according to the British Heart Foundation.6 A study based on the health records of 243,000 people in the UK found commuters who cycled to work lowered their risk of heart disease, as well as cancer and all causes of death.7

You can keep the intensity low and enjoy a long easy bike ride, or increase the intensity with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in spinning classes on a turbo trainer in the gym, or by adding in hills and sprints when you're out and about. A 2012 report that reviewed studies looking at the impact of HIIT on those with coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart failure (HF) undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, revealed HIIT appeared safe and better tolerated by these patients than moderate exercise.

Weight training

Weight (resistance) training has been found to have specific benefits for heart health. One 12-year study of 10,500 men by the Harvard School of Public Health compared the effects of aerobic exercise and weight training on waist measurement and weight. It revealed that men who did at least 20 minutes of weight training a day had smaller waists.8 And carrying too much fat around your middle can put you at higher risk of heart disease.

Other research, which compared aerobic and resistance training for heart health, found resistance training also benefits heart health by promoting blood flow and has a positive effect on blood pressure.

You don't have to go to a gym to benefit from resistance training. You can use your own weight to do press ups, squats, lunges, and pull-ups onto a bar, or you can follow a traditional programme at a gym using free weights like dumbbells and barbells, bands and medicine balls - or fixed machines.

Mind-body workouts

Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese series of flowing, slow, circular exercises, has been found to help those with mild high blood pressure and is a relaxing mind-body exercise. The American Heart Association, reports yoga may lower blood pressure and cholesterol and help people after a heart bypass or heart attack to deal with their emotions or feelings of depression.

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Jo Waters

About Jo Waters

Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.