Medically Reviewed By | Johannah Gregg, DNP FNP-C
Running is not for everyone. Those who love to run tend to really love it, while many more of us force ourselves out because we believe running is the key to fitness. But it doesn’t have to be.
There are many legitimate reasons people avoid running, and you shouldn’t be hard on yourself if you don’t enjoy it or can’t do it.
Many people find running tedious because it doesn't engage their minds and creativity like other activities. If you succumb to the tendency of having nothing else to think about while running than, “when is this going to be over?” — rest assured. You can boost your cardiovascular health and stimulate your brain simultaneously with a sport, game, or any other activity with a “goal” to concentrate on.
If you are facing an acute injury or a chronic condition that affects your joints, you should probably steer clear of running, which is “high-impact,” meaning it puts a good deal of stress on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. You should opt for a more “low-impact” form of cardio — many entries on this list fall into this category.
Cardiovascular exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle and has many benefits, including supporting the immune system, improving lung capacity, aiding sleep, and boosting mental health. But running is not the be-all, end-all of cardio.
Here are seven other fun ways to get your heart pumping and get a great cardio workout without a pair of running shoes in sight.
Cycling is a great choice of cardio exercise for those who love the great outdoors but don’t enjoy running. You can select the type of terrain and length of ride depending on where you are in your fitness journey. Going out for a cycle is also a fun activity to do with your partner, children, or a friend. Consider even joining a club or group of cyclists to promote inclusion and reduce risk of depression.
One bonus of cycling is that it is low-impact, meaning it does not put pressure and strain on your joints. If you are recovering from an injury or have sore feet, ankles, knees, or hips, this is a great option for cardio.
Cycling is also really good at increasing blood flow in the lower half of your body. Elevated blood flow brings oxygen and other important nutrients to body parts that need it, decreasing inflammation and speeding up recovery time.
If you want to supercharge this process, you can add in the Incrediwear leg sleeves. They will keep the blood flowing in your legs on and off the bike.
Cycling on a stationary bike is also a good cardio workout if you prefer to stay indoors. You can do this at the gym, in a spinning class, or on your own stationary bike at home. Bonus: you can watch TV while you do it!
Swimming is a low-impact, full-body workout that can get your heart rate up without putting strain on your joints. The water adds resistance, which helps to burn more fat and increase your strength.
Johannah Gregg, DNP FNP-C, also notes that, “Swimming also provides the added benefit of relieving stress placed on joints by gravity.”
While taking a few laps daily in the pool may seem like an easier workout than running, swimming undoubtedly strengthens your cardiovascular system. Research has shown that the hearts of people who swim regularly are just as healthy as those who run regularly. If you incorporate 30 minutes of swimming three to four times a week, your body will start to feel the positive effects.
Bored of swimming laps? Why not try an Aqua Aerobics or Aqua Zumba class for a change of pace? You can also make your swim more fun by investing in underwater headphones and playing some songs or a podcast while you get your laps in.
Yes, walking counts as cardio as long as you move briskly! Whether you walk to and from work, take your dog to the park, or meet a friend to walk and talk, you’ll get your heart pumping and your muscles working. Walking offers many of the same benefits as running, but at a slower pace and without the extra stress that running can put on your knees, ankles, and feet.
Walking on a treadmill also counts if that’s more your speed. But walking outdoors brings the added benefits of fresh air and being in nature, so we recommend getting outside if it’s available to you.
If your joints need extra support while walking, especially if you are walking on concrete, you can use an Incrediwear garment for functional support and peace of mind. Our knee sleeves provide comfort and soothing for joint discomfort, sprains, and injuries by supporting healthy blood flow to the area.
Have you ever seen a team of rowers gliding along and thought how serene it looks? Well, rowing is actually a surprisingly hard cardio workout. You don’t need access to a boat or a body of water, either (though if you do fancy joining a club and giving outdoor rowing a go, it is great fun.) Most gyms have rowing machines that simulate the motions involved in rowing a real boat.
It might look a little complicated if you have never used a rowing machine before, but we promise it’s fairly simple to get the hang of. Ensure your feet are securely strapped in on the pads and drive backward while holding the handle and keeping your core engaged.
Not only is rowing a great exercise for cardiovascular health, it also will help build and tone your upper body muscles, which running can’t do. After rowing a few times weekly, you’ll feel stronger in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, biceps, and back.
Your position while rowing makes it a great cardio choice for anyone looking to avoid stress on their knees and ankles. If you are recovering from an injury or want added support while rowing, use our women’s or men’s performance pants. These will reduce muscle fatigue and provide support without limiting mobility.
Power yoga, also known as vinyasa yoga, is not all gentle poses and breathwork! You’ll move quickly through a series of poses and sequences to get your heart rate up and improve strength and flexibility all at the same time. Additionally, the ability to mix high-intensity and low-intensity exercises in yoga, as you alternate between difficult and comfortable poses, will help strengthen your heart.
You can join a class or practice yoga at home. Thousands of free and paid tutorials online will take you through a structured yoga workout. Make sure you choose power or vinyasa yoga, not one of the gentler varieties, for a true cardio workout.
Not only is yoga a wonderful choice for cardio, but it also has several other benefits. Yoga is also known for its ability to increase people's mental well-being, as it is commonly used to foster mindfulness, reduce stress, and relax the mind and body.
Yoga is also useful for bodily awareness and has often been the source of early detection of physical problems, leading to early preventative action.
Dancing is a full-body workout and incorporates all the major muscle groups. Energetic dancing will raise your heart rate and burn fat at least as effective as a run, and you’ll probably have a lot more fun doing it.
There are numerous types of dancing, so choose one that works for you. Zumba is a popular dance fitness program. You can also find studios offering ballet, hip hop, swing dancing, pole dancing, ballroom dancing, and more. Even just putting on some of your favorite songs and dancing around your living room can give you a great workout.
Learning a dance routine is also a great way to keep your mind engaged while getting your heart pumping. Following and remembering sequences of moves will boost brain power and increase your coordination. Research from Harvard University revealed that dancing elevated cognitive acuity at all ages!
Far from just being something children do on the playground, hula hooping is a major fitness trend, and it’s great fun! You can attend a class, follow a video, or just grab a hoop and do half an hour in your living room. Once you’ve mastered basic waist hooping, there are all sorts of tricks and fun moves you can learn. If you want to increase the intensity and amount of calories you’ll burn, try a weighted hoop.
If you struggle to stay in the aerobic zone while doing cardio exercises, hula hooping might be your best choice. When you get into the rhythm of swinging the hoop around your hips, the hoop's momentum will make it easier to keep going.
Hula hooping is also a great way to increase core strength and hip mobility. Hip mobility is crucial for accessing your full range of motion.
The Best Workout Is One You'll Stick To
If you hate running, you won’t go. You might force yourself out of the door a few times, but a regular routine will not stick. Instead, why not get your cardio workout in by doing something you enjoy? The best workout is the one you’ll do regularly, which is most likely to be something you look forward to rather than dread.
The best workout is also the one that will keep you healthy — if you have any issues with the joints in your legs, you should avoid running, either for the time being or indefinitely.
The best part is that, concerning improving cardiovascular health, many of these other options can be just as powerful as running!