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Running may be a great way to burn calories and get your heart rate going. But for a lot of people, running may not be an option. Running is a high-impact exercise, and for some, it may contribute to joint discomfort in people with preexisting joint issues.1 But you can still get a great cardio without a running workout.

Read on to learn about some great, heart-pumping alternatives to running.

What Is Aerobic Exercise, Anyway?

You know aerobic exercise is great for you. You know it’s supposed to be a great way to support your health and weight loss goals.2 But what is it, exactly?

An activity is aerobic in nature if it increases your heart rate and breathing for a sustained period of time. Aerobic movement is often rhythmic and involves the use of large muscle groups.3

cardio exercises | LCR HealthSome examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Swimming laps (as opposed to just playing around in the pool)
  • Cycling (both indoor and outdoor)
  • Running (not to be confused with all-out sprinting)4

How Aerobic Exercise Affects The Body

Aerobic simply means “with oxygen.” In aerobic exercise, your muscles use the oxygen in your blood for energy. The harder you work, the more oxygen the muscles need, so the heart pumps faster to get it there. You’ll also breathe more intensely in order to get more oxygen.5

Aerobic exercise can be great for people of all ages and of all different activity levels.6 Of course, you’ll need to talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. There way be certain exercises that are better suited for you and your medical history.

The many potential health benefits of aerobic exercise include supporting:

  • Healthy cholesterol levels
  • Healthy blood pressure levels
  • Healthy blood sugar levels
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep quality
  • A positive mood7,8,9

Great Aerobic Exercises You Can Do In Place of Running

Running may not be for everyone. As a high-impact activity, it may put too much stress on the hips, legs, and knees for some people. And some people simply don’t enjoy it, regardless of its benefits.10 If you feel that running isn’t for you, you’re in luck. There are plenty of great cardio exercises to choose from.


cardio without running | LCR Health

Swimming can work both the lower and upper body without the joint discomfort of some high-impact exercises. Working out in water provides extra resistance to get your muscles working harder. It may also cushion stress on the joints.

Swimming laps may be one of the most effective ways to both reduce body weight and increase muscular strength.11 It may also improve your overall aerobic capacity.12

And if you just have to run, but want to take some stress off the knees, you might want to try deep water running. It’s a great way to supplement your cardiovascular training.13

women riding bikes | LCR Health

Outdoor Cycling

Not everyone has easy access to a pool, however. Cycling is another great, low-impact exercise. With cycling, you can get an intense aerobic workout without putting too much stress on your hips and knees. And you can easily adjust the intensity to match your fitness goals.14

If you live in a city that accommodates cyclists, you can even get your exercise in while commuting to work. Studies have shown that commuter cycling may have many positive health benefits.15

Indoor Cycling

But depending on where you live, outdoor cycling may not always be practical. While studies have shown that the benefits of outdoor cycling outweigh the risks, breathing in car exhaust may not be your idea of an invigorating workout.16

If that’s the case, you might want to give indoor cycling a try. Also known as spinning, indoor cycling may be an effective way to support weight loss and improve your aerobic capacity.17

And if upright cycling still puts too much stress on your joints, you can always switch to a recumbent bike. Recumbent cycling may lessen the load on the structures of the knee joint, while still providing a comparable workout.18

Elliptical Machines

The elliptical trainer uses smooth, controlled, low-impact movements. It provides both a lower and upper body workout that may help build and maintain lean muscle mass.19 It may also be a great alternative for people with balance and stability issues.20

High-Intensity Interval Training

elliptical training | LCR Health

You can amp up your workout using high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT involves short, quick bursts of intense effort interspersed with short recovery intervals.21

HIIT is especially useful for people who may feel that they don’t have a lot of time to exercise.22

How Is HIIT Different?

Unlike most steady-state cardio workouts, high-intensity interval training is actually anaerobic. In anaerobic exercise, like strength training, the body requires more energy than your blood’s oxygen can supply. In response, your muscles rely on your body’s glucose stores to keep going.23

You can employ HIIT with cycling, running, swimming, and even elliptical training. You can also incorporate bodyweight resistance training moves like burpees and mountain climbers.24,25 The trick is to (safely) work as hard as you can in each interval. You should be sprinting, for example — not jogging.

A HIIT workout may burn more calories than a steady-state aerobic workout of the same length.26 High-intensity interval training may even cause you to burn more calories when your body is at rest.27

Talk to your doctor about whether or not HIIT is safe for you to try. If they approve, ask them for advice on the best way to ease your way into HIIT. Once you’ve worked it into your routine, limit it to two or three times a week.28 Your body will need time to recover.29 And while you should warm-up before any workout, it’s especially important with HIIT.30

Breaking A Sweat Doesn’t Have To Break You Down

exercise class | LCR Health

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week.31 And there are plenty of ways to get your cardio without running. Exercise you genuinely enjoy will help you keep to your fitness routine — and that’s key to achieving your fitness goals.32 Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine.

Learn More:
Achieve Your Fitness Goals This Year With These Workout Motivation Tips
How Cardio Can Change Your Brain (and why that’s great news!)
Balance And Flexibility Exercises: Staying Active From Your 30s To Your 70s