Walk this Way: Part 4-Nordic Walking
Updated: Mar 13
Nordic walking is a total body version of walking that can be enjoyed both by non-athletes as a health-promoting physical activity, and by athletes as a sport. The activity is performed with specially designed walking poles similar to ski poles that have specially designed trigger straps which are different than the straps you find on hiking/walking sticks. Learning to perform nordic walking challenges both body and mind and is a great way to spice up your walking, receive added benefits while you take it into '4-wheel drive', and you can start at your front door or meet your instructor at a local park or the coast.
Benefit off Nordic Walking
Nordic Walking contributes to more muscle involvement with both your upper and lower body propelling you forward. Because of its versatility and adaptability Nordic Walking provides a total body workout for young and older adults, athletes to individuals with medical conditions. Nordic Walking is a "total-body" exercise because the arms become weight-bearing forces boosting bone density and muscle strength in the upper body. All four limbs (including feet and hands) are being used; gluteals, abdominals and trunk muscles, as well as the muscles of your shoulders, back and neck.
Nordic Walking skills contributes to better posture, bone density, joint range of motion, cardiovascular health, upper and lower body muscle endurance, enhances your step length, arm swing, heel strike and toe push-off, brain health, weight-loss and weight management, etc. The 'Grip and Go' technique that is part of nordic walking instruction is a rhythmic contraction and relaxation phase with each step that increases circulation of your blood and lymph systems.
Active Aging and Nordic Walking
Nordic Walking when learned correctly can help many seniors not only improve in walking ability, upright posture and forward directed gaze, improved joint range of motion and flexibility, the exercise also improves cardiovascular and muscular endurance which in turn benefit brain health and helps to prevent dementia.
Nordic Walking with Medical Conditions
Nordic Walking is used in myriad ways to address a number of exercise interventions and diagnoses. The poles provide stability and a lower-extremity unloading effect that is beneficial in the later stages of hip, knee and ankle rehabilitation. Nordic Walking is used in the treatment of instability of the pelvis, of whiplash, fibromyalgia, chronic back problems, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer to combat lymphedema, etc. It is advantageous for low back rehabilitation, benefits bone health, posture, and brain health.
Research on Nordic Walking
According to the findings of the research, conducted by the group scientists from various universities*, both Nordic walking and conventional walking are beneficial for older adults. However, Nordic walking provides additional benefits in muscular strength compared to conventional walking, making it suitable for improving aerobic capacity and muscular strength as well as other components of functional fitness in a short period of time. The key points stated by the study authors are: Nordic walking, conventional walking, and resistance training are beneficial for older adults.
Nordic walking and conventional walking both improve cardio-respiratory fitness while resistance training does not.
Nordic walking provides additional benefits in upper-body muscular strength compared to conventional walking.
Nordic walking is an effective and efficient mode of exercise to improve overall fitness in older adults.
History of Nordic Walking
Nordic Walking started out as a summer training exercise for cross country skiers. Nordic Walking compared to normal walking utilizes 20% more of the body's muscles during each workout (70 % vs. 90%) and is one of the most effective cardiovascular workouts because it works all major muscle groups in the body.
With each pole-plant there is a co-contraction of the abdominals and other core muscles. Use of the poles creates more of a cardiac workout. As the person uses the poles, there is a corresponding increase in heart rate, and the person does not have to walk faster to get a better workout and burn more calories. The range of arm movement regulates the length of the stride. Restricted arm movements will mean a natural restricted pelvic motion and stride length. The longer the pole thrust, the longer the stride and more powerful the swing of the pelvis and upper torso.
Footwear & Clothing
Wear comfortable walking or outdoor trail shoes. The sole must have good grip and waterproofing is a good idea. Walking boots can be problematic if the upper part covering the ankle is stiff or the laces around the neck of the boot are tied too tight as this can impair free movement of the lower leg over the ankle.
Lightweight clothing appropriate for the weather conditions on the day, light gloves, a hat and a waterproof jacket for cold and wet weather and suncream/block and sunglasses in sunny weather. It is better to wear several light layers of clothing and avoid lose and long fitting jackets.
Back pack or waist/fanny pack
Carry your personal belongings, water and snack in a waist bag or back pack.
Instruction in Nordic Walking
Jacqueline is an ANWA certified nordic walking instructor and provides private training and small group classes in nordic walking. The largest walking group that she accepts is 8 people and includes nordic pole rental. Participants can try out different poles before buying their personal set of Nordic Walking poles. Outdoor classes and training are safer while we are under the threat of the corona virus which caused many indoor programs to be cancelled.
References: ANWA, ILWA, National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kanoya, Japan; Department of Rehabilitation, Yonaha General Hospital, Kuwana, Mie, Japan; Wichita State University, Wichita, KS, USA; Active Aging Association, Nagoya, Japan; Nagoya City University, Nagoya, Japan. 2013