It’s well known and proven that even regular walking is good for you, the fresh air, being in nature, walking in groups, just the act of movement, the freedom and often tranquillity. What could possibly make Nordic Walking more beneficial than that? And as I’m often asked “what exactly is this Nordic Walking”?
STARTING WITH THE POLES
Nordic Walking is walking with poles that have specially designed hand straps (called gloves). It is these gloves which differentiate Nordic Walking poles from Hiking poles (which only have a loop). The Nordic Walking gloves allow the walker (when applying the correct technique) to completely release any grip on the pole. The glove design also ensures the return of the pole to the correct position, in order to be caught by the hand.
This rather simple physical movement involving just the hand, alternating between gripping and letting go of the pole is just one aspect which makes Nordic Walking a superior cardio-vascular exercise to just plain walking. You may have been asked to do this movement by a nurse or doctor when needing to encourage circulation to your arms for a blood test.
Not only is it essential to have the right type of pole to Nordic Walk, but it is also imperative that you have the correct size pole. Any qualified and reputable instructor will be able to measure you correctly for this. As a rough guide, if you stand (on level ground) holding the pole in front of you, your arm should be bent (at the elbow) at approximately a 90 degree angle.
WHO IS IT SUITABLE FOR?
Nordic Walking is suitable for almost everyone. It was originally invented by Cross-Country Skiers as a method to keep them fit during the Summer months. It was proven to be more effective than their previous programme featuring the combined activities of cycling, running and rowing. It is therefore more than suitable as a training method for serious athletes.
However, the beauty of Nordic Walking is that it is equally suitable for complete exercise beginners and also for use in rehabilitation from injury. In essence, if you can walk, you can usually Nordic Walk. It is what is known as a “low perceived effort” exercise – in other words it feels easy. It feels easier than even regular walking (because it feels like the poles help you along) despite the fact you are actually using muscles from all of your body – not just the legs. In addition, Nordic Walking is fully weight bearing, so builds bone mass in the whole body, including the spine.
HOW EASY IS IT TO LEARN?
It’s not particularly difficult to learn – you also do not have to be worried about being fit before you get started. There is, however, plenty to learn involving posture, how to place your feet, correct hand, arm and foot co-ordination and most importantly what to do with your arms! Most instructors have special beginner workshops or a series of beginner classes in order to ensure you learn the basic technique correctly. With Nordic Walking, it is NOT a case of the faster you walk the better it is for you. It’s more accurate that the better your technique becomes, the more you and your body will benefit from it. Thankfully Nordic Walking is a sport where you do NOT have to become a sweaty and red in the face mess, in order to take advantage of its health benefits AND you can start at any age.
WHERE CAN I LEARN?
I would definitely recommend learning from a reputable Nordic Walking Instructor –BNW (British) or INWA (International) qualified where possible. You should pick up the basic technique within (average) 2 – 4 hours, and so will be walking at a level which is a more effective exercise than just walking. Another few sessions and you should progress along the authentic and original INWA scale up to level 6 or so, you will now benefit from more toning than achieved by jogging too. There are 10 INWA levels up which to progress, should you wish to. Find your nearest instructor.
A WHOLE HOST OF BENEFITS
On a personal note, the Community Volunteer Nordic Walking (NW) Club I set up can boast many (all be it anecdotal) examples of success stories. Hilary (70’s), lowered blood pressure. Margaret (70’s), Nordic Walked to successfully recover from two replacement knee ops. Several people are Nordic Walking to keep depression at bay. Many started Nordic Walking whilst injured and physically unable to continue jogging/running or hashing – they have all continued to NW whether or not they have returned to the original activity. A few people have kept their type 2 diabetes under control with the introduction of NW to their recommended treatments – 1 that I know of has (with GP approval) been able to stop medication. Several cancer survivors find NW relaxing and beneficial for their general well-being. Office workers have noticed a reduction in head, neck and shoulder tension. Many people are able to take part in NW despite having arthritis, in all cases they have felt an overall improvement and felt better for being able to take part. Too many to mention have lost weight. Everyone has shown improvements in general fitness in at least one way. Many of the original participants are still regularly Nordic Walking three years later, which to me says it is also a sustainable as well as achievable form of exercise. As a community club we have been able to raise thousands of pounds for a variety of different charitable causes.
Where the speed isn’t the deciding factor to effectiveness it is possible to walk in a group of mixed ability without issues. For many it is the social interaction and group participation which encourages them to regularly attend, often with new members (after initial workshop) joining the established groups.
It’s not very often that as adults we embark on learning a completely new physical activity. Nordic walking has been proven to improve co-ordination, balance and memory. Learning a new motor skill (something we rarely try as adults) even helps the brain build new neural pathways.
Just in case you’re still not convinced! A whole battery of more academic research papers boast the efficacy of Nordic Walking. If interested these can also be found on the British Nordic Walking site, research page