What’s Up With Nordic Walking?

June 25, 2011

By johnmac

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I live in a great neighbourhood for taking walks. The roads are wide, there are lots of big trees providing a shady canopy from the sun and there’s hardly any traffic. Recently, I’ve noticed more and more people in my neighbourhood walking around with what look like ski poles. I’d heard something about this walking technique a while ago – something to the effect that it offered numerous health benefits over ‘regular’ walking, but I never really knew what it was all about – until a few weeks ago when I got a call from a long-time friend of mine, Judy Whitelock.

During our conversation Judy mentioned that she had recently taken up Nordic Walking and that she’d become so passionate about it and its health benefits, that she also become an instructor. We started talking about it and she let me know about a presentation on the topic that is taking place on June 30th at the Ottawa Heart Institute (more details at the end of this article) and she invited me to join her for a Nordic walk in Britannia Park so that she could show me what it was all about.

After my walk with Judy, it occurred to me that many of the people who I’ve seen Nordic walking don’t seem to have the correct technique and are therefore missing out on its many health benefits, as well as potentially causing strain to their bodies. I also decided to do a bit of research about this activity and was impressed with the numerous health and fitness advantages of what adding a couple of poles to your walk can do! It’s a great activity for people of any age, health and fitness level. Anyone who can walk, and even some who have difficulty walking, can participate in this health-promoting activity. Best of all, you can do it at your own pace, starting and building to an intensity level that is comfortable for you. You can do it anytime, anywhere and all you need are the poles (which are very reasonably priced) and some good walking shoes.

So what’s the big deal about Nordic walking?

Nordic walking is a low-stress exercise technique that basically incorporates the use of walking poles to more-or-less ‘regular’ walking. When done properly, the poles engage the legs and upper body, resulting in a total body workout with clinically demonstrated health, fitness, physical and psychological benefits.

According to my research, Nordic walking originated in Finland many decades ago and was born out of the trend of cross-country skiers using poles in their summer training. It wasn’t too long until clinical studies correlated the use of poles with improved health and fitness. Nordic walking was developed by a Finnish sports equipment manufacturer in close cooperation with sports medicine researchers and other fitness professionals. It was officially launched in 1997. It has spread quickly throughout Scandinavia and Europe, with an estimated 3,000 trainers and 3.5 million people who now do it regularly. It has spread to North America, where its popularity is growing quickly.

The main reason why this activity is catching on so quickly is that it has been clinically proven to be an excellent way to prevent and improve many health issues. This is because compared with regular walking, Nordic walking involves applying force to the poles with each stride, so Nordic walkers use more of their entire body with greater intensity. This means they get more muscle stimulation compared with normal walking, including the chest, laterals, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles. This extra muscle involvement leads to many health benefits over regular walking done at equal paces including:

  • increases overall strength and endurance in the core muscles and the entire upper body (when done properly, Nordic walking engages 90% of all muscles!)
  • burns more calories
  • significantly increases heart rate
  • increases cardiovascular fitness and oxygen delivery. Interestingly, Nordic walking has been used in the rehabilitation of patients who have suffered a heart attack. Studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin showed that the oxygen uptake when Nordic walking was on average 21% higher compared to regular walking. Other studies have shown up to a 46% increase, with calorie burning also increasing accordingly.
  • use of the poles improves balance and stability
  • significantly reduces stress on the hip, knee and ankle joints
  • use of the poles turns walking in to more of a resistance exercise, which supports increasing and/or maintaining bone density

The great news is that even though it offers so many benefits over regular walking, you don’t really feel like you’re working any harder.

Clinical and anecdotal reports indicate that Nordic walking may be beneficial in a number of conditions including arthritis, back conditions, relieving neck and shoulder pain (which is increasingly prominent with so many people spending most of their days sitting in front of a computer) cardiovascular diseases, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, obesity and many more. Nordic walking looks easy, but it does involve some specific warming up exercises and a particular technique to realize its full benefits and to avoid any strain on the body. To learn more, you may wish to take advantage of a unique opportunity on Thursday June 30th at noon at the Ottawa Heart Institute (Foustanellas Auditorium, 2nd Floor). Dr. Klaus Schwanbeck, founder of the German Health Preventive Network and the German Olympic Sports Federation, will be giving a talk about Nordic walking.  Dr. Schwanbeck launched Nordic walking across the United States, Canada and other countries as a highly beneficial health and fitness exercise for everyone. During this talk, he will give a synopsis of the 300 medical studies which support why Nordic walking is emerging as one of the best physical activities that anyone can do. Feel free to bring a friend or colleague along. You can read more about Nordic walking and Dr. Klaus’s credentials athttp://www.nordixx.com. As previously mentioned, Judy Whitelock is a certified instructor and is happy to offer free clinics if you can get a group of 5 – 10 people together who would like to learn how to get the most health benefits from Nordic walking. Poles will be provided for use during the clinic and are available for purchase for those who are interested at a very reasonable price. You can reach Judy at 613-288-8464 or at 1-888-700-1224 ext 2. Enjoy! References:

  1. http://www.nordixx.com
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