The treadmill can be seen as representing a middle way in aerobic exercise equipment. Just as the middle way in Buddhism is the path between extremes, the treadmill walks -- well, not literally, you'll actually have to do the walking -- a middle path between the highest-impact exercises and the lowest. As "The New York Times" states, your joints require motion to remain healthy, but too much pounding leads to joint injury and/or arthritis. For some people, a treadmill is ideal for cardio workouts and healthy joints. Other people, especially those with certain medical conditions, might find the joint impact on a treadmill wrecking their knee, hip or ankle joints.
Walking on a treadmill is considered to be a low-impact form of exercise. It exerts about as much force on the knees, hips and back as using an elliptical machine, states MayoClinic.com. Treadmill walking often is a good choice for those who are starting a new exercise program, since the machine is easy to use and well tolerated by most people, even those with back conditions, according to the Spine-Health website. However, there are other forms of cardio that exert less force on your joints than walking on a treadmill.
Treadmill running is considered to be high impact. It puts considerable stress on your joints every time your foot strikes the surface. Some people tolerate running, either on a treadmill or outdoors, without ever suffering from joint problems. Others develop joint problems, including arthritis. Higher quality treadmills have running surfaces that minimize the impact your joints absorb. Still, even if you train on a treadmill to prepare for outdoor racing, MayoClinic.com suggests cross-training with lower impact cardio exercise.
Other forms of cardio won't stress your body as much as running -- or even walking -- on a treadmill. Riding a stationary bike is easier on your joints than a treadmill. So is swimming -- the buoyancy of the water takes most of the pressure off your joints. As the "Columbia Spectator" explains, this factor "makes swimming a viable workout for anyone, even those with injuries, including arthritis and joint weakness that comes with age." You don't have to swim, either. Pool walking, jogging or other water exercises can build cardio fitness, develop muscles and protect your joints.
People who are overweight need to be particularly careful in their choice of an exercise routine, the IDEA website explains. The more you weigh, the more torque, or pressure, you put on your joints when you walk or run, and the greater the chance of injury. A stationary bike, elliptical machine or pool is a better option for those who want to exercise for their health. It's also a better way to lose weight safely.
- The New York Times: Physical Activity: Exercise's Effects on Bones & Muscles
- MayoClinic.com: An Elliptical Machines Better Than Treadmills for Basic Aerobic Workouts?
- American Council on Exercise: What's the Best Piece of Cardio Equipment to Use?
- Columbia Spectator: Protecting Your Joints, One Low-Impact Swim at a Time
- IDEA Health & Fitness Association: Torque and Training Overweight Clients
- Spine-Health: Treadmills for Exercise and Pain Relief
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.