Sure, the wrong kind of food can be unhealthy, but what about the wrong kind of exercise? While there are no standard guidelines for what determines if an exercise is low- or high-impact, understanding the difference between the two can make all the difference in using them correctly to strengthen the body.
Bam Between Bones — The Need-to-Know
Photo by Justin Singh
The words “high-impact” may conjure up images of football players colliding head-on or soccer players taking an elbow to the face. But high-impact exercise also encompasses sports with less person-on-person contact, like the jolting motions involved in running (which can cause an impact of 2.5 times the runner’s body weight with each step) and gymnastics . While studies suggest the right amount of high-impact exercise can increase bone density, other research indicates too much can place excessive strain on the body and may even wear down muscles over time, possibly leading to crippling effects years later  .
On the less-intense side, low-impact exercise (think swimming, yoga, and using the elliptical, movements that involve less direct force on the body) is done in a softer gear, placing less stress on the body and reducing risk of injury . . But (shocker) just like too much high-impact is bad, too much low-impact exercise may not give healthy bones the stimulus they need . For people who have joint damage or are recovering from injury, lower intensity exercise can be a great alternative means to stay healthy and active . And it's not just for sissies— even football players use low impact exercises like yoga for rehabilitation and to increase flexibility.
The Real Impact — Your Action Plan
So what’s best way to balance workouts for the biggest impact overall? While a lot of it can depend on individual needs, cross-training is often a great solution, alternating both low- and high-impact exercises instead of strictly focusing on one discipline.
The best way to get into cross-training is to start by alternating each workout day with high- and low-impact exercises. Look into gradually easing a few exercises from the other side into a workout week, depending on what the usual training plan looks like. But note those who aren't used to a regular workout routine or who have specific health problems should usually check with a doctor before starting a new regimen. One thing to keep in mind is that cross training will not prevent injuries (there's no real guaranteed way to prevent them, really), but it can decrease the risk of overuse injuries.
Have fun creating a middle ground using the best of both workout worlds! Instead of just yoga, how about yoga with weights? Maybe do some Zumba instead of hitting the treadmill? Or try a hand at jiu jitsu instead of swimming?
What kind of high- and low-impact exercises do you combine to create the perfect workout?