5 Best low-impact movement practices

Annabel Lee 11 January 2022

Slower and less rigorous exercise can still drastically improve your health and wellbeing. Here are five of the best things you can do to gently raise your heartbeat

The new year is a time many people embrace exercise, but while cardio and high impact movement works for some, it’s not for everyone.

High impact exercise (which generally involves running or jumping with both feet coming off the ground at once) can be good to raise your heart rate but does carry risks of injury and damage to bones and joints.

Low impact movement in contrast places less stress on the body and can be particularly useful for people recovering from injury or suffering from pain—which is estimated to be between one third to half of people in the UK.

Even though it’s low impact, that doesn’t mean isn’t not beneficial; according to the NHS, low-impact movement can be as effective as other exercise in lowering the risk of heart disease. This kind of movement is also associated with reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

Some types of low impact exercises like walking are well known, but there are some lesser-known types of movement that offer a way to move and feel good. Here are five you can try. If you have pain or injury, it’s always sensible to seek medical advice before trying any new form of exercise.

Yin yoga

Yin yoga is a slow form of yoga where poses are held for a long time, usually between three to five minutes. It targets and stresses deep connective tissues, joints and ligaments in the body which play an important role in keeping bodies healthy, mobile and pain free.

Rhiannon Kitson, yin yoga teacher at Fluid Fox Yoga says, “The long holds stretch and strengthen tissues while also teaching you how to breathe and relax. It helps create better flexibility and more comfort around joints which can reduce aches and stiffness.”

Although yin might look easy, with many of poses done lying on the floor, it can be challenging or uncomfortable for body and mind to stay still. Rhiannon says it’s important for all students but especially those with pain or injury to “learn your limits and respect them practicing with both intention and attention.”

Pilates

Pilates targets the whole body with an emphasis on correct postural alignment. It was developed by Joseph Pilates who was influenced by various forms of exercise including gymnastics, boxing and wrestling.

Practiced on a mat or on specialist equipment, Pilates aims to improves strength, flexibility and mobility. Laura Cooper, Pilates teacher at Form and Flow Pilates says, “We use the breath to help keep the core engaged and at the forefront of every movement. The emphasis on alignment helps find and target muscular imbalances that may cause pain or injury, and then helps correct them.”

“For people in pain or recovering from injury, I would recommend private lessons to start before progressing onto a class with small numbers, so you can learn what is best for your body.”

Qigong

Qigong is an ancient practice from China that focuses on the flow of energy (or Qi) in the body. It combines movement, breathing and meditation and is said to help support mental and physical wellbeing.

Central to Qigong is the concept that energy affects how we think and feel, so by working with it, we can feel better in body and mind.

Alessandro Ferullo, Qigong teacher at Flowing Health says, “When we practice and connect with Qi, it brings us back to balance, can improve our health and help us feel nourished on many levels. People may have more energy, improved mobility or notice improved sleep.”

"Central to Qigong is the concept that energy affects how we think and feel, so by working with it, we can feel better in body and mind"

For those in pain or recovery, Alessandro says, “Qigong is gentle, and people can practice according to their own capabilities. It is adaptable and can be done standing, sitting or even lying down.”

The Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique is based on the concept that how you move, sit and stand affects how well your body functions. It teaches you how to improve your posture and movement by unlearning habits like slouching or standing unevenly which lead to aches and pain in the body.

Usually taught one to one, during lessons you learn how to be more aware of your body, to improve poor posture and move more efficiently.  

Anne Morley, member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (MSTAT) says: “You are taught how to release tension which interferes with good posture, allowing you to carry out activities with easy movement and good balance. The benefits include freedom from pain, a feeling of lightness and having more control over your body.”

Somatics

Somatics is a way to reduce pain by re-educating the brain and body. It deals with the idea of sensory motor amnesia, where because of long term habits or misuse, the brain forgets to send a message to muscles to rest and relax so they are always turned on, leading to pain and stiffness.

Taught either one to one or at group lessons, you will learn a small number of exercises, which are mostly done lying down on the floor. You are advised to practice at home every day as a regular practice helps retrain the brain for long term results.

Somatic movement coach, Francesca Melluzzi says: “Somatics uses small, focused, gentle movements known as pandiculations, which are distinctly different from stretching. You learn new ways of moving that help switch off tight muscles. When you have an injury or pain it’s the brain that needs to recreate new neural pathways to help the muscles to re-learn how to relax.”

Read more: A guide for aspiring digital nomads

Read more: A polar bear's journey

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter