Walking is well-known as one of the best exercises for cardiovascular strength, weight loss, and weight maintenance. There is a way to make normal walking even more beneficial, and that is to engage in the sport of Nordic walking. This form of walking, which involves the use of poles in a manner similar to cross-country skiing, is rapidly gaining in popularity. From humble beginnings, it has grown to be very popular and offers myriad benefits to practitioners.
The history of Nordic walking can be traced to the 1930s, when cross-country skiers in Finland were looking for a way to train for their sport during the off season. They began using poles when they were walking during the fall, spring, and summer months, when there was no snow on the ground, and they found their overall endurance improving, thereby strengthening them for their competitions. Over time, the practice of walking with poles spread throughout Europe to those who weren’t professional or amateur cross-country skiers, and research began into the health benefits of the practice. By the 1990s, Nordic walking had become popular beyond European shores, spreading to North America, where it continues to gain in popularity across the United States and Canada.
Many scientific studies have confirmed the health benefits of Nordic walking. First, it has been confirmed that Nordic walking provides an excellent cardiovascular workout that increases the number of calories burned during a session. Both men and women burn an average of about 19.5 percent more calories when they walk with poles than when they walk without them. Thus, Nordic walking is a great choice for those who want to lose weight and make walking their primary form of exercise.
Nordic walking also uses more of the body’s various muscle groups than normal walking without poles does. Because of the increased use of the arms in Nordic walking, the triceps are worked more strenuously in Nordic walking than when one does not walk with poles. Additionally, the muscles in the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs get more use in Nordic walking than in normal walking.
Patients who are recovering from heart failure can also benefit from Nordic walking. It is a low-impact but efficient form of exercise that strengthens heart muscles and has been proven to reduce the number of visits to the hospital for those who suffer from heart problems. Patients over the age of 65 are likely to benefit much from Nordic walking, and it is often recommended for them.
Finally, Nordic walking improves balance and coordination while reducing stress on the body’s joints. The poles absorb some of the impact that joints ordinarily absorb while walking, making for an exercise that is not very hard on areas normally affected by arthritis. The use of the poles also helps improve coordination in most people who practice Nordic walking.
Nordic walking does not require much specialized equipment. All you need are two poles and proper footwear, and you are all set to go. It is important, however, not to use just any poles. Trekking poles are not appropriate for Nordic walking, and walking with poles that are not properly sized to your height will decrease the benefits of the sport and increase your risk of injury. Most Nordic walking experts recommend poles of adjustable height because you can adjust them over different terrain to make sure you are using them properly. This is particularly important if you are traversing terrain that is hilly and has lots of peaks and valleys, as the proper height of walking poles when walking uphill is different than the height needed when walking downhill or on a flat surface.
Specialized Nordic walking shoes are available for those who will be engaging in Nordic walking over long distances, but beginners will be fine with normal tennis shoes. No matter the shoes you buy, make sure they are comfortable and durable.
Although Nordic walking is relatively simple, there is a bit of a learning curve in order to make sure you are doing it properly. Getting some guidance from a professional instructor is recommended. In any case, one thing to keep in mind when walking is that pressure should be applied from the shoulders, not the elbows or wrists. You will also want to make sure that you engage your upper torso fully in order to get the most out of your workout. Keep your movements smooth, rhythmic, and regular, and you will benefit greatly from your workout.
- American Nordic Walking Association
- Calgary Herald: Pole Position Nordic Walking
- Fitness Benefits of Nordic Walking
- Five Benefits of Nordic Walking and How to Get Started
- History of Nordic Walking
- Health Benefits of Nordic Walking
- International Nordic Walking Federation
- Mayo Clinic: Benefits of Walking Poles
- NHS Choices: Nordic Walking
- Nordic Walking’s Benefits over Gym Workouts
- Nordic Walking and Disabilities
- Nordic Walking: Benefits Heart Failure Patients
- Nordic Walking Sheds Its Stodgy Image
- Nordic Walking Study
- Talking of Walking
- Trekking Poles for Nordic Walking