8 Low-Impact Exercises to Work the Core and Raise Your Heart Rate

Low-impact exercises are a good way to increase your fitness while being easier on your joints than high-impact exercise options. That makes these movements better for people with arthritis, osteoarthritis, or other joint-related issues or pain.

Research reveals that low-impact aerobic exercise offers psychological benefits as well. One such benefit is reducing your stress levels. This is important since the unresolved stress can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues.

Some low-impact moves get your heart rate up while building core strength at the same time. A strong core means better posture and balance, which is helpful for younger and older people alike.

If all of this sounds good to you, here are eight low-impact core exercises to work into your physical activity routine.


Straight Leg Kicks

Straight Leg Lift
Ben Goldstein

Straight leg kicks get your heart rate up while challenging your flexibility and balance. The key is to keep your torso upright and try bringing your legs as high as you can. 

  1. Begin with your feet together and both hands straight out to your sides.
  2. Lift your right leg to hip level or higher, keeping your knee slightly bent if you need.
  3. At the same time, circle your right arm around and down, as though you're trying to touch your right toes. (If you can't, that's okay).
  4. Lower your right leg and lift your left leg to hip level, reaching toward your toes with your left hand.
  5. Continue going as fast as you can, adding a jump for more intensity, if desired. Making your arms big will increase intensity too.
  6. Complete one to three sets of eight to 16 reps.

Wide Side Steps

Step touches
Ben Goldstein

Wide side steps, also known as puddle-jumpers, are a cardio exercise that is low in impact but high in intensity. High-intensity exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reduces your abdominal fat, and has positive effects on your cholesterol levels.

  1. To begin this move, push off your right foot and step out with your left foot as wide as you can, as though you're trying to avoid a puddle. Your arms are wide.
  2. After your left foot hits the floor, step your right foot to the left and quickly touch it to the floor, then push off your left foot to take a wide step in the other direction.
  3. You can make this a more difficult exercise by adding a band if you want.
  4. To increase your intensity, increase your speed and see how wide you can step. Adding big arm movements help too.
  5. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Sit and Stand

This exercise may not seem like much, but it's actually a great way to get your heart pumping without being high impact. Because it requires some level of balance to move between a sitting and standing position, it also provides a good core workout.

  1. Stand in front of a step or platform so you are facing away from it and sit down, placing your hands next to your hips.
  2. Lean back as you extend your legs out in front of you.
  3. Bring your feet back in and stand up, using your hands to help you up if needed.
  4. If you want to make this move harder, don't use your hands to assist you or add a jump at the end.
  5. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Low-Impact Jumping Jacks

Low Impact Jumping Jacks
Low Impact Jumping Jacks. Paige Waehner

If you can't do traditional jumping jacks, or find that they cause you pain, don't worry. These low-impact jumping jacks are perfect for getting your heart rate up without stressing your joints.

  1. Step your right foot out to the side as you swing your right arm up and overhead, reaching as high as you can.
  2. Step your right foot back in and then step to the other side with your left foot, swinging your left arm overhead.
  3. Continue alternating sides, moving as quickly as you can without jumping. 
  4. To make this low-impact exercise harder, deepen your lunge, do the movement faster, and add more arm movement.
  5. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Low-Impact Jumping Jacks With Rainbow Arms

Low impact jumping jacks with rainbow arms
Low impact jumping jacks with rainbow arms. Paige Waehner

If you're looking for an exercise that is higher in intensity, take your low-impact jumping jacks to the next level by adding bigger, stronger arms. In this version, you circle both arms overhead as if you're making a rainbow.

  1. Step your right foot out to the side as you take both arms straight up.
  2. Step your right foot back in and then step to the other side with the left foot. Circle your arms overhead and then bring them down as you lunge to the other side.
  3. Continue alternating sides, moving as quickly as you can without jumping, circling your arms like you're painting a rainbow.
  4. To make this move harder, deepen the lunge, speed it up, and add more arm movement.
  5. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Front Kick Plank

Ben Goldstein

This exercise requires quite a bit of balance, so take your time and hold onto a chair or wall if needed.

  1. Begin with your feet together and arms up in a defensive position, as if protecting yourself from a hit that is about to be thrown by an opposing boxer.
  2. Bring your right knee up and kick that leg out, avoiding hyperextension of the knee.
  3. While still on the left leg, bring your right leg back behind you and drop your hands to the floor.
  4. Move your left foot back and next to your right as you enter into a plank position, holding that pose briefly.
  5. Step your left foot forward into a runner's lunge, stand up, and again kick with the right leg, continuing with your front kick planks on that side.
  6. Repeat the series on the other side, doing one to three sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Side-to-Side Lunge With Rows

side lunge with row
Ben Goldstein

Do lunges raise your heart rate? Absolutely. Especially when you do a lunge-row combo such as this. 

  1. Begin by facing forward, holding weights at your side.
  2. Turn your body to the right, stepping your left foot straight back as you bend your right knee into a lunge.
  3. Step back to the middle and raise your weights to chest height, engage your core muscles, then lower the weights back down.
  4. Turn to the left, moving your right leg back before returning to the middle and doing another row.
  5. Continue alternating sides, moving as quickly as you can.
  6. To make this move harder, lunge deeper or use heavier weights. 
  7. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Side-to-Side Lunge With Chest Presses

One Arm Chest Press Band
Paige Waehner

This lunge variation adds resistance band chest presses to side-to-side lunges, giving you a good cardio workout while strengthening your upper body at the same time. Adjust the tension to increase or decrease the resistance when working your chest, shoulders, and arms.

  1. Connect the band to a wall or door. Alternatively, wrap a resistance band around your upper back, bringing it under your armpits and holding onto each side.
  2. Begin by facing forward, then turn to the right while stepping your left foot straight back as you bend your right knee into a lunge. At the same time, punch your left arm forward diagonally.
  3. Step back to the middle and turn to your left, moving your right leg back and the right arm forward into a punch.
  4. Continue alternating sides, moving quickly to increase intensity or moving slowly and deepening the lunge to better target your glutes and thighs.
  5. To make the move harder, add a jump in the middle.
  6. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.
4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johar M, Omar-Fauzee M, Samah B, Somchit M. Effect of low-impact aerobic dance exercise on psychological health (stress) among sedentary women in Malaysia. Biology of Sport. 2012;29(1):63-69. doi:10.5604/20831862.984944

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress.

  3. Ozkal O, Kara M, Topuz S, Kaymak B, Baki A, Ozcakar L. Assessment of core and lower limb muscles for static/dynamic balance in the older people: An ultrasonographic study. Age and Ageing. 2019;48(6):881-7. doi:10.1093/ageing/afz079

  4. Shepher S, Wilson O, Taylor A, et al. Low-volume high-intensity interval training in a gym setting improves cardio-metabolic and psychological health. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0139056. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139056

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."