What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking is a fitness activity which uses specially designed poles to help you walk faster, improve your posture and balance and give you a whole-body workout. It’s a low impact exercise suitable for everyone.
What we like most about it is that it raises your heart rate without you feeling too puffed which makes getting fit so much easier – oh – and it’s brilliant for your back, kind on your joints and great for your circulation. Did we forget to mention that it’s outdoors, so you can exercise in nature and lots of fresh air – and it’s sociable too! All of this means that it’s the perfect blend of physical and mental wellbeing.
It came about when competitive cross-country skiers wanted to keep fit during the snowless off-season. They discovered that by adapting their ski poles and using their cross-country upper body action whilst regular walking they could maintain their strength and fitness. The ‘Nordic walking’ name and technique was created in Finland in the late 1990s and came to the UK in around 2004.
To Nordic walk you need a pair of Nordic walking poles. These are similar to trail running poles (yes, you can Nordic run – or Nordic skate – if you want) with a glove-type strap which clips in to a slender, streamlined handle. It allows for a full arm swing and great acceleration as you can push the pole way behind your body, letting go with your hand and powering through the strap. Nordic walking poles are different from trekking poles, which have a chunky handle with a loop strap and which are used primarily for support and stability.
Nordic Walking Health Benefits
As you would expect, many of the health benefits from Nordic walking are the same as for walking and running. It raises your heart rate, burns calories, strengthens and tones you. The seemingly small addition of two poles coupled with the Nordic walking technique adds some awesome additional benefits:
Nordic walking uses way more calories than ordinary walking. Research suggests it’s around 36%. The clever thing is that although you’re burning more calories it actually feels easier because your effort is spread between your upper and lower body.
Nordic walking is better than both walking and running for muscle strength and balance. It uses 90% of your body’s muscles and the action of pushing down through the poles bolsters your deep core muscles and balance. It’s also amazing at zapping those hard to reach ‘bingo wings’ on your upper arms.
It supports your back and protects your joints, strengthening your postural muscles so that even when you’re not Nordic walking, you walk better with less back, neck and shoulder pain. It’s especially good up and down hills if you’ve got sore hips or knees.
Nordic walking is great for mental wellbeing. Like walking and running, it’s sociable, outdoors and fun, plus the technique requires concentration, keeping other worries at bay. The action of planting the poles in the ground is rhythmic and meditative and helps you unwind.
It is superb for improving circulation, helping resolve conditions such as numb fingers, and has benefitted many asthma sufferers too as the improved posture whilst walking makes breathing easier and more efficient.
Last but not least, the poles provide support and power, making walking easier if you lack confidence or find it difficult, and harder if you’re looking for something more energetic than ordinary walking but not as intense as running.