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Best low-impact exercises for heart health

Sandy Smith is a food writer, editor, recipe developer, and pastry chef. She lives in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley with her awesome family of painfully honest, unfailingly supportive taste-testers.

Heart-healthy low-impact cardio

It's no secret that regular aerobic exercise plays an important role in heart health, but if your knees start to ache just thinking about all that high-impact exercise, you'll be happy to know there are several excellent low-impact exercises that you can do to boost your cardiovascular fitness. If running and other high-impact exercises aren't for you, give one of these heart-healthy low-impact workouts a try.

Woman doing aqua aerobics

1Low-impact cardio machines

Most gyms are equipped with a selection of cardio machines designed to provide a great workout with a minimum of stress on your joints. Look for the following: ellipticals, arc trainers, upright and recumbent exercise bikes, and stair climbers. Treadmills can also be part of a vigorous low-impact workout; simply set the incline at 5 to 7 percent and keep your pace at a brisk walk.

2Swimming and aqua aerobics

Swimming is a full-body workout with virtually no impact, since joints and muscles are supported by the water. As a bonus, because swimming uses so many muscle groups simultaneously, you'll be burning loads of calories. If you're not a fan of swimming, you can still partake in the benefits of aqua-based exercise. Try water walking or pool aerobics. Exercises using hand webs and kickboards increase resistance and tone muscle. Water-based exercise activities are ideal for those who have trouble with weight-bearing exercise, because gravity is not nearly as punishing in the pool.

3Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is another whole-body workout that avoids placing stress on the joints. Using a gliding motion, with little twisting and jolting, cross-country skiing works the upper and lower body simultaneously, over an extended period of time. This makes it one of the most efficient — and effective — cardio exercises: a 145-pound person can expect to burn about 330 calories per 30 minutes gliding across the snow.

4Power yoga

Power yoga has benefits beyond just improving cardiovascular health. Depending on the style of yoga you choose, you're likely to see improvements in flexibility and strength as well. Search for yoga DVDs or classes that feature fairly challenging yoga poses with postures that flow, to elevate the heart rate.

5Strength training

You don't need to be a body builder to reap the benefits of strength training for heart health. Performing lunges, squats and other exercises with relatively lightweight dumbbells will tone your muscles, give you a metabolic spike (torching those calories) and if you complete your reps with little or no rest in between, you will keep your heart pumping for an effective cardio workout.

6Dancing

Even if you think exercise machines are one step up from medieval torture devices and would rather wear a clown suit than a bathing suit, there's still plenty of opportunities for you to exercise your way to a healthy heart. Try a Zumba class – fitness meets dance party here, with moves borrowed from salsa, flamenco, samba, merengue, and other Latin dance styles. Not your cup of tea? Try ballroom or even square dancing. As long as the dance moves get your heart rate up into the target range, you'll reap the heart-healthy benefits.

Eating tips for a healthy heart

Heart-healthy eating

Joining Shay Pausa is celebrity chef Gale Gand and Dr. Jennifer Mieres. They discuss how what we eat affects our heart.

More exercises for heart health

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