The main factor that makes a cardio workout beneficial for longevity is impact. “Choosing the best cardio exercise for you depends on your health and your age,” says Charles Richardson, MD, a heart health expert. While high-intensity interval training is good for many—as long as you don’t overdo it—it tends to have a higher impact on your muscles and joints, he says. And your bone mass starts to decline by the age of 40, which is why low-impact exercises are your best bet for working out long-term.
Of course, just because a workout is low-impact doesn’t mean it’s easy. Hopping onto a rowing machine for a few intervals can have your heart rate spiked and your body sweating in a matter of minutes, as can plenty of other easy-on-the-joints workouts (think cycling and swimming, for example). But these low-impact exercises allow you to go hard without taking a toll on your all-important joints, tendons, and muscles, which results in your physical capabilities lasting well into your golden years. Keep scrolling for cardio-expert approved cardio workouts that are key for longevity.
The best cardio exercises for longevity
Dr. Richardson and Brian Lima, MD, a cardiac surgeon, say that swimming is hands-down the most beneficial type of exercise you can do for both cardio health, strength, and longevity. “Swimming is probably the lowest-impact on the joints, and working on your breathing pattern is important in order to maximize your heart rate,” says Dr. Richardson. It’s also completely weightless, adds Dr. Lima, which means it doesn’t add to the wear and tear on your joints that many other exercises tend to do through impact.
“Walking is low impact, easy on the joints, and it works to get your heart pumping,” says Dr. Richardson. The best part about walking is that there are so many ways to spice up your steps, whether you’re varying the speed, incline, or adding some sort of resistance (such as carrying weights as you walk). Just queue up a walking workout, lace up, and go.
Biking, whether indoors or outdoors, is another low-impact cardio exercise that, while it’s easier on your body, it gets your heart rate right up. “Cycling is fantastic to get your blood flowing to your lower extremities, and it’s low stress on your body,” says Dr. Richardson.
Much like cycling, Dr. Richardson recommends rowing for a heart rate-spiking cardio workout that boosts circulation in your lower body. Not only is it pumping blood throughout your leg muscles, but it’s a killer arm workout, too.
If you’re into treadmills but aren’t into the impact from them, try an elliptical workout. “There’s a lot that you can do on the elliptical, from adding incline or intensity and resistance,” says Dr. Lima. “It’s low impact, so if you feel the pain from running, do the elliptical to let your joints rest a little bit.”
Here’s a 25-minute low-impact cardio workout to try today:
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