Those who have felt the proverbial “runner’s high” will tell you that no other activity can compare to running. But high-impact exercise may not be suitable if you have damage to your knees or other joints.

Running may have benefits for some people, but most doctors won’t recommend high-impact exercise if you have knee damage or osteoarthritis. This can be disappointing, but there are alternatives.

Cross-training works on the basis that one type of exercise can enhance an athlete’s performance in another. Research suggests that swimming, for example, may help improve performance in running, even though it uses different muscles.

Cross-training can provide an alternative for athletes taking a break because of physical injury, overtraining, or fatigue.

Whether you need some recovery time from an injury or just looking for low-impact alternatives to mix things up, these alternatives to running may be suitable.

Cycling offers the perfect alternative to running. Just like running, you can enjoy cycling indoors or out, thanks to stationary bikes and bike trainers.

Cycling allows you to maintain and improve your fitness without the stress on your joints and shins.

Hop onto a road bike, a stationary bike at home or at the gym, or try an advanced indoor cycling class for a high-intensity workout that might offer runners a new kind of high.

Using a bike to get around is not only good for your health, but it’s also better for the environment. Where possible, consider cycling to work or the store instead of using a car.

Love it or hate it, the elliptical trainer offers an excellent training alternative for runners who are injured or looking to rest their joints.

Elliptical machines allow you to mimic the motion of running. Although it’s a weight bearing activity, it’s low-impact for your joints.

This means you can strengthen the muscles you use in jogging with less impact on your joints. Compared with using a treadmill, elliptical trainers are a low-impact choice.

Focusing on motions that are as similar as possible to your usual running form and sticking to a similar training schedule will help you make the most of this activity and maintain your fitness level.

Runners who need a change but only really enjoy running may find water running, or pool running, a good compromise.

Just as the name suggests, water running involves running in water, often in the deep end of a swimming pool with an aqua belt on to provide buoyancy.

This alternative lets you enjoy the benefits from the motion of running without any impact on your joints.

To get the most out of pool running, focus on your form, staying consistent with your regular running motion.

Following a training schedule similar to your running schedule will also help you get the most from this unique alternative while still giving your joints a break.

Contrary to popular belief, walking is an effective alternative for runners who want the same health benefits without the impact on their joints.

A study published by the American Heart Association found that walking was just as effective as running in lowering the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

The key is to walk for the same total distance, which may take about twice as long, in order to get the same benefits as you would from running.

Along with the health benefits, you also get to enjoy the fresh air and scenery that makes running so appealing.

Taking a step aerobics class or working out to a step video offers a high-intensity and low-impact workout alternative. It’s easier on the joints than running but still effective in improving muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance.

One study from 2006 found that step aerobics exercises offer a biomechanical load that falls between what you would get from walking and running. The key is to perform the moves properly and safely to avoid injury.

Experts recommend physical activity for people with knee osteoarthritis. Guidelines published in 2020 mention walking, cycling, aerobic, and water exercise. They also recommend tai chi and yoga.

These exercises can help you:

  • maintain your weight
  • build muscle to support your joints
  • reduce stress

Running may not be suitable if you have a knee problem due, for example, to osteoarthritis or an injury. A low-impact activity may be more beneficial.

Ask your doctor, physical therapist, or a sports therapist about your options. Choose an activity that you enjoy and can afford.

You may also wish to consider exercising with a group or a personal trainer, as some people find this more motivating.

When trying a new machine or activity, make sure you get the right training. Using gym equipment incorrectly can lead to further damage.