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3 ways to get a great low-impact cardio workout if you hate running

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There is a simple truth about running: it is simply not for everyone.

Seasoned runners may scoff at the notion that their favorite exercise is anything other than transcendental bliss, but for a large swath of the population, it can feel taxing, exhausting, and downright unpleasant. For many, running is no walk in the park.

Before you chalk it up to sheer laziness, keep in mind that running requires a base level of physical competence that not everyone possesses. It also can be hard — quite hard — on the joints. And frankly, not everyone has an idyllic running route or comfy gym available to them, both of which some runners may well take for granted.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you’re someone who just can’t bring yourself to take up running, take heart. You can bypass the running and still get a top-notch cardio workout. Here are three possibilities.


According to statistics from Harvard Medical School, dancing can burn up to 180 calories per 30 minutes of activity. Not too shabby for something objectively designed for the purposes of having fun.

And that’s the key selling point of dancing as a cardio workout: the relatively high chance you’ll forget you’re doing a cardio workout.

Whether out on the floor or in a hybridized dance-fitness program like Zumba, dancing is a great alternative to running. And it improves your coordination and balance to boot!

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Swimming or water running

Swimming provides a full-body workout while making a minimal impact on your joints.

The Harvard stats estimate that running a 10-minute mile and swimming vigorous laps burn the exact same number of calories in half an hour — 360 — for a 155-pound person. Swimming also strengthens muscles in both the upper and lower bodies while improving flexibility.

Deep water running may be less familiar to some, but it’s a terrific workout, especially for those rehabbing from an injury or who have significant joint issues. All you need is a pool and a flotation or aqua belt, which runners wear as they “run” through the deep end of the pool. If you’ve never enjoyed running, maybe this low-impact version will be more in your wheelhouse.

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, even when you’re in the pool, that same Harvard data, tells us water aerobics burn about 140 calories every 30 minutes.

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Stair climbing or step aerobics

Climbing stairs is not about speed. Anyone who has done it for a long enough has experienced the burn that this simple but surprisingly taxing activity can create.

Got a staircase? Then you’ve got a workout. And it doesn’t take long for the calories to burn away.

Step aerobics took this basic idea and formed a new fitness craze around it. It’s now a veteran of the scene but remains popular, with a plastic “step” as the equipment centerpiece.

Both versions take a lesser toll on the body than running, with one study estimating the impact of step aerobics as somewhere between walking and running. Still, step aerobics burns an average of 360 calories per hour, so the cardio drop-off is slim to none.

There’s a fourth option that may be obvious but deserves a mention nonetheless: good, old-fashioned walking. A brisk walk for 30 minutes five days a week is all you need to meet federal guidelines for physical activity.

Options abound for anyone who, for any reason, doesn’t have the ability or the willingness to run. Running is an easy and productive form of exercise, but no activity, even running, has the market cornered on cardio. Ditch the running and shoes and try any of these alternatives for a new exercise experience.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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Scott Harris

Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health, wellness, and nature, among other topics. His work has appeared on, Vice, Bleacher Report, MedPage Today, and Healthline, to name a few. In his spare time Scott enjoys writing fiction, playing with his kids, and searching for the perfect vegan brownie.

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