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What are the top low impact sports for people with bad joints?

21st May 2018

Bad joints can get in the way of achieving a good exercise routine, due to the pain and discomfort of weight bearing exercise. When we exercise by playing sports or running, there is a large amount of stress placed on the joints, especially the knees. This leads to pain and can actually cause long-term damage to the joints. However, there are a few excellent low impact sports which are ideal for people with bad joints. Read on to discover which exercises can provide a great workout for people experiencing problems with their joints.


The first low impact exercise to consider for people with bad joints is swimming. The sport of swimming is extremely low impact, but offers an excellent workout for both the muscles and the lungs. Swimming requires the exerciser to use their muscles to pull themselves through the water and different swimming strokes can work different muscles in the arms, torso and legs, to provide an all over body workout.

Swimming breaststroke is a great arm workout, but people with bad knees should be very careful with this stroke, because the breaststroke leg kick places some stress on the outside of the knees. Better strokes for people with bad joints are front crawl and backstroke. These two swimming strokes force the leg to travel in a straight line, kicking from the hip. The lack of sideways movement means these strokes are ideal for people with joint problems.

The lack of impact when swimming means this is an ideal sport for people trying to protect their joints. The water supports the full bodyweight while the exercise takes place, which means you only need to focus on the technique of the stroke and your breathing style. This is why swimming offers a fantastic workout without stress on your joints.


Another excellent sport for those with problem joints is cycling. This sport offers a great workout for the heart and lungs, while also taxing the leg muscles. However, there is no impact on the joints because the effort is smooth, using the pedals to create the effort. For people with back problems, cycling can be a concern because when you cycle you need to lean down into the handlebars. Of course, for a less intense workout, a higher sit-up bike can be ideal. For most serious cyclists, however, a racing style bike will be the best choice. Cycling is certainly an excellent choice for people with knee problems, as there is very little impact, while it can help to strengthen the muscles all around the knee, which provides great support for the joint.

Cross trainer

For those who like using gym machines, the cross trainer is a great choice. This machine offers an all over body workout, without impact on the joints. The exerciser stands on the pedals and pushes down to create a slow motion running-on-the-spot movement. This exercise can be performed slowly or quickly, with an up and down motion or with a more circular motion. One positive point of using the cross trainer is that this exercise can be performed with the arm motion in addition to the leg motion. To use the arms too, simply hold the handles and move them forwards and backwards. The cross trainer offers one of the best full body workouts in the gym, so this is a top choice for anyone who wants to exercise.

Water aerobics

Similar to swimming, water aerobics uses the water as a full body support throughout the exercise. This means you can get an aerobic workout while having your joints totally supported by the water. Aerobics is usually performed to music and in groups, so this exercise choice is ideal for those who like to exercise in a group and enjoy a more social experience.

Roller blading

Another great exercise with little impact is roller blading. This offers a good aerobic workout, so will strengthen the heart and lungs, but the motion of this exercise is smooth, so the joints are always moving in a smooth forwards motion. Roller blading can be fast or slow and once the person gets into a rhythm, this is an enjoyable and highly effective low impact exercise for anyone.

Yoga and Tai Chi

Yoga is ideal for those with joint problems. This exercise is generally less aerobically challenging than many other exercises, but there are certain types of yoga that do move quickly from one pose to another, and these types of yoga offer more benefits for the heart and lungs. Yoga is a good way to strengthen the muscles around your joints, and the extra flexibility gained from regular yoga practice will also give your joints improved support. Another related exercise with similar low impact benefits is Tai Chi. This Eastern exercise has a strong following and offers an ideal combination of balance training and flexibility training. These types of exercise are also ideal for developing greater inner calm.


Rowing is a sport that can be practised in the gym on a rowing machine or in the water on a lake or river. This exercise is ideal for those with joint problems, because there is no impact on the joints due to the fact you sit down for the duration of the exercise. Although this is a seated sport, it is still very taxing aerobically, as the upper body has to move a lot to wield the oars in order to propel you through the water. In the gym, rowing is also highly taxing and actually offers one of the best workouts in the gym, as it is an all over body workout.

Horse riding

Riding a horse is another aerobic and muscular exercise that does not require any impact for the rider. You can sit on the horse and use your upper body muscles to control the animal and your lower body muscles to grip the saddle. This has a good effect on your legs, torso and arms, while avoiding putting any stress on your joints.


Although walking seems like it could be high impact due to the fact you are putting your body weight on your legs, it can actually be relatively low impact on the joints. Walking is much lower impact than running and can be an ideal exercise choice for those with mild joint issues. Of course, if you have serious joint pain, then you will need to remove your entire body weight from your joints, in which case swimming is a better choice. However, if you are only suffer mild joint pain, then walking could offer a great alternative. Walking burns calories at a fast pace and is the most natural motion known to humans, so this is always a highly recommended exercise for virtually everyone. In contrast with running, walking requires that you place one foot in front of you while the other foot is still in contact with the ground - both feet are always in contact with the ground at the same time, which means there is very low impact as the weight is never dropped onto your joints, but placed gently. The best surface for walking on is a soft surface, such as grass.


Similar to walking, playing golf means that golf swings are broken up by periods of walking on grass. This can be seen as adding an extra level of interest to your walk! Playing golf is great for people who want to add a competitive element to their walking exercise. You can develop your golfing skills while getting cardio benefits. This is also a more social option and many people join golf clubs to practice with others.

Strength training

Training for strength is a great way to burn calories and tone up, and it’s also ideal for developing strength in your ligaments, which will support the joints. Strength training can be done in the gym with free weights or weight machines, or it can be done at home using your own bodyweight. There are many strength training exercises that are great for people of all fitness levels, including press ups, sit ups and lunges. There are a couple of areas where those with joint issues need to take care when lifting weights, for example, during squats. The squat lift can put some stress on the knees, so this is an exercise that needs to be done properly with the correct technique. It is vital that you perform all weight lifting exercises in a slow and controlled motion with the right technique - always ask your gym instructor for advice.

There are many options for people with bad joints who still want to get a good workout. You can enjoy benefits to your heart and lung health with low impact exercises, while also strengthening your muscles and improving your balance and flexibility.

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