Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, but there’s no denying that it’s certainly not for everyone. In fact, most people have a hate-love relationship with this cardio workout. In other words, they seem to either love it or, well, hate it. While running is one of the quickest ways to get an endorphin rush (those feel-good hormones), it can also be quite physically demanding, especially for beginners.
Why running may not be for everyone
“Running can cause muscle soreness, joint pain, or even injuries if proper form and technique are not followed and some people just find it plain boring, or repetitive, which can make it unenjoyable,” says Bill Daniels, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., founder of Beyond Fitness. “Some individuals who struggle with motivation, may find it difficult to push through fatigue or mental barriers during a run.”
Some people dislike running because it can be quite time-consuming. “If you want to do a good run, you need to prepare properly: eat well beforehand, wear proper attire, and bring plenty of water with you,” says Reda Elmardi, R.D., certified nutritionist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Trainer, and founder of The Gym Goat. “If you don’t have enough time in your day, or if the weather is bad,running may not be the best option for you.”
While running can be a great form of exercise for many people, it might not be suitable for everyone. “If you suffer from degenerative bone diseases or osteoporosis, for example, you should avoid high-impact exercise, like running, as it can lead to fractures,” notes Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “If you currently have COVID or are a victim of long-COVID, you may find it difficult to breathe well under duress.”
Alternatives to running: expert-backed cardio workouts
The good news is that there are plenty of alternative exercises to running that give you the same cardiovascular benefits. Here’s a look at some of the expert-backed cardio workouts to perform if running isn’t your thing.
It might sound simple, but walking is an excellent cardiovascular exercise. In fact, walking just under 4,000 steps (a minimum of 3867) has been shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, according to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Not only is walking easier than running, but it’s also low-impact so it’s great for people of all ages. Elmardi also points out that walking can be done anywhere—no special equipment required.
Swimming is a great, low-impact, way to strengthen your entire body, notes Dr. Adams. “Swimming involves most of the muscles in your body, both upper and lower, so you really burn a lot of calories and develop endurance quickly if you stick to a good swimming workout plan,” says Dr. Adams. And you don’t have to be a good swimmer to take advantage of this aerobic workout. “Just tread water for several minutes and you will get great benefits, too,” he adds.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods. The goal is getting your heart rate up and then helping it come back down (think circuits of squats, push-ups, lunges, burpees, and jump rope). “These workouts are intense, efficient, and can be done with just bodyweight exercises or minimal equipment such as dumbbells or resistance bands,” says Daniels. “HIIT improves cardiovascular fitness, helps burn calories, and promotes muscle endurance and strength.” It’s especially important to warm up properly before a HIIT workout and to make sure you’re incorporating rest days so you can allow your body to recover.
Despite the fact that cycling is a full-body workout that can be performed at a high-intensity, it’s also low-impact and it can be done indoors on a stationary bike or outdoors on a road or mountain bike, shares Daniels. “It targets the leg muscles, while putting minimal stress on the joints, improves cardiovascular endurance, strengthens the lower body and can be an enjoyable way to explore the outdoors,” he says. He recommends starting with shorter rides and gradually increasing your distance and intensity. “Proper bike fit and safety gear are crucial, and using different terrains or resistance levels can add variety to workouts,” he adds.
Maybe you were a big fan of this activity when you were a kid and didn’t even realize it qualified as a cardio workout. “Jumping rope is a great way to strengthen the heart, legs and improve your health,” says Dr. Adams. “You don’t need much space or equipment and you can do it practically anywhere—plus, a 10-minute rope-jumping session may be just as effective as a 30-minute jog when it comes to health benefits.” If you haven’t jumped rope since gym class, Dr. Adams recommends starting off with short intervals and working your way up.