The Best Low-Impact Exercises That Burn the Most Calories

Don't let the term "low-impact" fool you! Low-impact exercise can still give you a calorie-burning workout — the perfect complement to your weight-loss or cross-training plan. Not only is it less stressful on your joints compared to high-impact activities like running and jumping rope, but it's perfect for those brand new to exercise, overweight, pregnant or those who have joint pain or osteoarthritis.

Low-impact doesn't have to mean low calorie burn. (Image: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Caiaimage/GettyImages)

Here are four of your best options to get you started burning calories without damaging your joints. One thing to keep in mind: All of these calculations are based on a 155-pound person and 30 minutes of activity. Your caloric burn will depend your weight, intensity level and duration.

Exercise is even more effective when paired with a healthy diet. Download the MyPlate app to track your calories consumed and burned for a complete picture of your overall health.

1. Walking

Walking is one of the most popular low-impact exercises you can choose, says the American Council on Exercise (ACE). It doesn't cost a thing to start a walking program, although you might want to invest in a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

On days when inclement weather precludes outdoor activity, hit the treadmill, which has the added benefit of allowing you to control the speed and incline.

Calories burned: 149 at 3.5 mph, 167 at 4 mph or 186 at 4.5 mph

2. Cycling

Bicycling and stationary cycling are also easy on your joints. Recumbent exercise bikes are better for beginners, as they offer more back support. As with walking, intensity matters, and the faster you go or the more hills you take on, the more calories you'll burn.

Group cycle classes can be a great source of motivation, but although you can burn a ton of calories, ACE cautions that some might be too vigorous for the average beginner. If you're just starting out, cycle at a pace that feels comfortable to you rather than trying to keep up with the rest of the class.

Calories burned: 298 at 12 to 13.9 mph, 372 for 14 to 15.9 mph, or 260 to 391 for stationary cycling

3. Elliptical Machine

Exercising on an elliptical machine gives you a thorough workout and decreases the stress on your hips, knees and back, as both feet remain grounded at all times. Plus, elliptical machines are equipped with handles that resemble ski poles, which work your upper body as well.

Calories burned: 335

4. Swimming/Water Aerobics

Swimming tones your entire body, as you use all your major muscle groups during this activity. To get the most from your workout, keep up a steady pace during the course of your workout. And if you enjoy exercising in a group setting, consider trying out a water aerobics class.

Calories burned: 223 to 372 for swimming and 149 for water aerobics

Exercise and Weight Loss

If weight loss is your goal, ACE recommends burning 250 calories a day through physical activity and shaving another 250 from your diet to sustain slow, steady weight loss of one pound a week.

Low-impact exercises, such as cycling and swimming, are exhausting when performed vigorously, and they may not be appropriate for your current level of physical health. Keep it safe by easing into your new exercise plan until you build up your endurance.

If you're a male over 40, a female over 50 or if you have a medical condition such as heart disease, consult with your physician before you engage in vigorous exercise.

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