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Fitness tips: Best low impact workouts for your joints

March 17, 2014 - Fitness

Two woman training in waterMany exercises can put stress on your joints, particularly if you are carrying extra weight, but there are alternatives that will allow you to keep fit and protect your joints at the same time. We asked fitness experts how to exercise without the risk.

Protecting your joints is a big issue for people trying to lose weight, as being overweight for a prolonged period of time can lead to conditions like osteoarthritis. While deciding to lose weight will help your joints in the long run, it is important to take it slow and only choose workouts that are going to protect them. Jumping into extreme, high impact workouts could lead to the injury of an already vulnerable joint.

‘Although injuries often lead us to believe it’s better to rest, our bodies are designed to move so it’s important to find exercises that won’t aggravate your injury or postural loading when possible,’ says Fitness and Exercise Consultant Laurel Alper. ‘Try and find an exercise that you enjoy and be consistent. Even those who suffer with an arthritic condition are advised to exercise, albeit with specialist advice from a physiotherapist.’

Walk if off
‘If you have weak joints it’s always best to go low impact with exercises like walking or using the cross trainer, as these put less stress on the joints,’ says Kelly Du Buisson, creator of The City Workout.

Physiotherapist Sammy Margo also recommends walking as a part of your daily routine. ‘Fitting walking into your day in small chunks will help keep your body moving little and often, which is better for your joints,’ says Sammy. ‘Get some good walking shoes or trainers that have good cushioning or add in some shock absorbing innersole. Go walking with friends to catch up on the move and listen to your body; some muscle soreness is usual but if it persists consult your doctor. Start slowly, as gradual loading is key to keeping potential damage at bay, but keep it consistent.’

‘Walking has the added benefit of helping to maintain bone density,’ says Laurel, ‘which, in turn, can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis (fragile bones), as it is weight bearing. Cycling is another form of lower-impact exercise, also aerobic and weight bearing. To help protect your joints, peddle fast using low resistance.’

Classes and weights
Classes can be a good option for working out without putting stress on your joints. Zumba, Pilates, and yoga are all good choices, as well as activities in the water. ‘Aqua aerobics is fantastic as you get the support of the water, plus the extra resistance so you can push harder,’ says Kelly.

Laurel agrees, ‘swimming is a low-impact, fantastic form of exercise, which utilises virtually all your joints and muscles. It can be aerobic, if you swim continuously for at least 20 minutes, and it strengthens muscles without putting them under undue stress and keeps you supple,’ she says. ‘If you are starting from scratch, it’s a good idea to join a supervised aqua aerobic class to help gain confidence.’ As well as aerobic exercise Kelly recommends lifting light weights. ‘Resistance builds strength in the surrounding muscles, which supports weak joints,’ she explains. The clam, a simple Pilates exercise, is Kelly’s top choice. ‘It strengthens the hip and thigh muscles in order to support the knees and lower back,’ she says.

She also recommends using a power plate (found in most gyms), which works out the muscles using vibrations. ‘It increases weight bearing abilities and the effects of gravity, and requires a lot of strength but very little impact.’ Having strong muscles will help support your joints and the more you exercise the more you will be able to do.

While exercising, it is important to remember how joint injuries occur. ‘Commonly, injuries are due to repetitive exercise so it’s vital to have a whole body approach and ensure all your muscles are worked,’ says Laurel. ‘Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise programme.’