Exercising: How to be kind to your body and see results

Exercising: How to be kind to your body and see results
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 8 July, 2024

Fitter. Faster. Stronger. Harder. The language of performance broadcasts these messages from billboards that tower above us at unreachable heights. Caps locked and with exclamations to further the point, we’re challenged to do it, be better and never stop never stopping.

Motivationalists harass our Discover feed. Well-intentioned fit friends frustrate us with their toxic positivity. Slogan T-shirts taunt us at the gym: ‘If you want it, work for it’, ‘Be stronger than your strongest excuse’, ‘If it’s not hurting, it’s not working’…

However, for most of us, the extreme is not where we’re at, and the most inspiring #MondayMotivation post isn’t WD-40 for the joints. Why is it that the fitness narrative to push ourselves harder is often at the expense of our bodies? And is there a way to achieve wellness without sacrificing ourselves? What exercise approach could work for you while being kind to your body?

Low-impact exercises

Enter low-impact exercises, which are gentle physical activities on the body without risk of injury. “Low-impact exercise side-steps the single biggest barrier we have to get fit once we’ve committed to it, which is an injury risk,” says Professor Ross Tucker, a sports scientist and high-performance sports expert. “Many people reach the point of changing their lifestyle to train, which is the biggest hurdle, but then stumble over the next challenge – pain and sometimes injury. This happens when we put our bodies through unfamiliar exercise.”

If you have no real history of exercise, even mild training can pressure the joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles. Tucker says this stress is good, but too much too soon can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope. “Low-impact exercise avoids this scenario, and even though it does to some degree limit what we can do, it allows us to make that start with less risk.”

Ready to make your start? We’ve got you!


As easy as riding a bike
Cycling will lower your blood pressure and the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. It will also shred fat while strengthening the legs, glutes, and core. The best part? You don’t have to invest in expensive gear, risk your life on the road, or wear spandex—our Cycle Studio has a stationary bike waiting for you.”

Cycling is one of the few fitness activities that everyone can enjoy, from the very young to the very old,” says Head of Cycle at Virgin Active Fiddy Gey van Pittius. “The nature of cycling lends itself to a natural and simple action of the legs, with little coordination needed, making it easy for people to start cycling and keep cycling.”

Fiddy goes on to explain how regular cycling helps people lose weight and become more mobile and agile. And it benefits not just bigger bodies but also older people.

“Done daily, cycling is linked to increased brain health and promotes blood flow to the brain, assisting with reducing degenerative cognitive changes due to ageing. For the elderly, cycling is also an activity which assists in keeping them socially engaged and less isolated.”

Fiddy suggests the following to anyone wanting to get up and ride: “At Virgin Active, we offer 45—to 60-minute classes that cater to all. Tell the instructor you’re just starting, and they’ll ensure they give you the best introduction to their class. Remember, you’re in control and can progressively build your fitness.”


The ultimate low-impact exercise
Swimming works almost all major muscle groups while being gentle on the joints. An excellent cardio workout, it’s the ideal choice for anyone with arthritis, joint pain or other conditions that limit high-impact activities. In addition to its physical benefits, swimming will take care of your head, too – it’s a relaxing and meditative activity that reduces stress, anxiety and depression.

Nicholas Myler, a group swim project manager from the UK who recently joined Virgin Active SA, reports that promoting weekly swimming in England saves the National Health Service and social-care system more than £357 million a year.
“Exercise within aquatic environments provides additional buoyancy, alleviating pressure on joints and injuries,” says Nick. “Like other forms of exercise, swimming also releases endorphins, which increase positivity and a sense of well-being.”

Nick says that not only does regular swimming reduce long-term health conditions, but that swimmers report feeling 6.4% healthier than non-swimmers.

This is comparable to feeling 12 years younger! Dive right in if you’re searching for the fountain of youth.



The mind-body connection

Emphasising the mind-body connection, yoga improves flexibility, balance, strength and endurance. It also reduces stress and anxiety, promotes relaxation and better sleep, and enhances overall well-being. Because of its gentle and low-impact nature, yoga suits people of all ages, sizes and fitness levels.

“Yoga will make you connect with the deeper layers of your being,” says Virgin Active yoga instructor Joëlle Sleebos. Because it’s non-competitive and non-judgemental, it allows everyone to practise in the same space simultaneously.”
Awareness of the power of your breath, rhythmic breathing, and the meditative/relaxation practices of yoga are designed to induce a sense of calm, well-being, stress tolerance, and mental focus, all of which may minimise depression, anxiety, and stress.

“Consistently practising yoga is also an excellent way to prevent injuries in athletes, as it creates a subtle understanding of the body and is an excellent way to become aware of your movement patterns.”

Yoga is for everyone, and Virgin Active offers three different classes – Yoga Flow, Yoga Align and Yoga Calm – each of which cultivates a different energy and has various benefits for the mind, body and soul.

Join the class you choose, or if you’d instead practise at home, check out our bank of yoga videos on YouTube.


It’s got your back
Pilates strengthens the core, improves posture, and increases flexibility. A strong core takes pressure off your spine and reduces or prevents back pain. Pilates also incorporates breathing and mindfulness techniques that promote relaxation and stress reduction. Adding pilates to an existing cardio or weights routine results in improved balance, better posture, and reduced risk of injury.

“People of all sizes, shapes and ages can take pilates classes,” says Verna Young, a Virgin Active pilates instructor. “It’s a low-impact exercise that doesn’t require a high cardiovascular or muscular fitness level.

If you make the necessary adjustments to suit your starting point – your instructor will guide you here – you’ll find pilates accessible.”

Verna adds that the variety of modifications makes this a fantastic, low-impact exercise, especially for older people. “Pilates strengthens the thigh muscles, which may help prevent arthritis and knee injuries. It’s also a good choice for chronic lower back pain.”

Pilates is also a great tool to assist or enhance a physiotherapy programme if you’re recovering from an injury. “By strengthening the deepest muscles of the core, optimising alignment, and creating correct movement patterns, you prevent the re-aggravation of those injuries and the development of new ones.”

In addition to the physical benefits, research shows that when you think about your movement, your brain cells grow faster, and your nervous system creates better connections throughout the body.

Looking to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue while improving your mood? Pilates is just the thing.

Top Exercise Tips

No matter which exercise you choose, here’s how to get the most out of your workout:

1. Warm up and cool down
Before exercising, spend a few minutes warming up your muscles to prevent injury. After your workout, stretch to reduce muscle soreness.

2. Listen to your body
Pay attention to how your body feels during exercise. If you feel pain, adjust your intensity.

3. Progress gradually
As you become more comfortable with your exercise routine, gradually increase the intensity or duration of the workout to challenge your body and see results.

4. Cross-train
Incorporating different low-impact exercises into your routine prevents boredom and engages various muscle groups.

So, whether you prefer swimming, yoga, pilates or cycling, these low-impact exercises provide numerous physical and mental health benefits while reducing the risk of injury. Following the tips above and listening to your body can achieve your fitness goals while maintaining a healthy, sustainable, active lifestyle.

Join Virgin Active gym today to learn more about the endless benefits of low-impact exercise.