Why Nordic walking is a workout worth weighing up

Nordic walking is a workout that can help improve lower body issues such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis of the knees, hips or ankles, as well as people who are awaiting joint surgery. Image source: Mathias Reding Pexels

Tired of the same old fitness routine that leaves you feeling uninspired and stagnant?

Say hello to Nordic walking – the invigorating workout that's captured our hearts (and legs!). If you're looking for a low-impact, high-reward exercise that's both enjoyable and effective, Nordic walking is your friend.

In this article, we'll share why Nordic walking is our favourite new workout – and how it can transform your health.

Nordic walking, a fitness regimen with its origins in Finland, was developed to train cross-country skiers during their off-season.

The exercise involves the use of specially designed poles with rubber tips that grip the ground, actively engaging the arms and core muscles to transform a simple stroll into a comprehensive full-body workout.

If you can embrace the goofiness of walking in the sunshine with ski-like poles, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the benefits.

On average, those who can embrace the quirkiness of strolling with sticks experience a remarkable 22% increase in kilojoule expenditure and a 23% boost in oxygen consumption, according to the New York Times.

The more oxygen your body can consume, the more efficiently it can generate energy during workouts.

You don't need the pricey gear - you do need good technique

While there are an array of pricey, high-tech poles for potential Nordic walkers, the key lies in mastering the technique of Nordic walking rather than brandishing expensive gear.

The essence of Nordic walking is all about engaging your upper body, regardless of the type of poles you use.

Holding the poles with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, ensuring that your forearms are parallel to the ground, while using  your triceps to press the pole tips into the trail behind you to propel your body forward is the key.

While walking is fantastic and involves no special equipment other than a decent pair of walking shoes, it largely targets the lower body. Folks with balance or stability issues, and perhaps those with hip or knee complaints, also find that discomfort can be exacerbated if there are any uneven surfaces.

So Nordic walking has much in common with the benefits of walking but also:

• provided increased stability, and therefore greater confidence

• involved 90% of body muscles, including upper body, shoulders, arms, and core

• burnt off something in the vicinity of 40% or so more calories

• took pressure off hips and knees

• meant that all the choc-chip cookies you ate had no kilojoules.

Okay, forget the last one, but would you settle for the other 4?

Cross country skiing but without the snow

If you’ve ever watched cross-country skiing, you will notice thebeautifully fluid motion of skiers using ski poles to propel themselves across the snow.

Finland is home to some of the world’s best cross-country skiers – because it’s a very cold snowy place, and except for the far north, it’s fairly flat – but these folks don’t slack off in the summer, they keep training. They use the same fluid walking motion, and the same fluid Nordic pole motion, but they do it on grass, walking tracks and footpaths, basically anywhere.

Nordic walking poles come in pairs, are readily available from sports stores, and a little research will help you make the best choice for your needs.

The poles should have a comfortable grip with a large resting flange at the lower end of the grip.

The length of the pole should be easily adjustable and suitable for anyone with arthritic hands.

The bottom of the pole – the part that touches the ground – should have the ability to allow traction on different surfaces, like gravel, hills, grass or in mud.

If you are feeling a little sceptical that so many extra benefits can be gain from Nordic walking, watch the video below explaining more about the benefits of Nordic walking. The video includes details from an Australian trainer who runs Nordic walking meet-ups in New York's Central Park.

Sonja Johansson explains the benefits of learning Nordic walking in groups with a trainer include:

  • physically seeing the technique in action, while being able to get hands-on correction from an experienced trainer
  • a group can foster a sense of community and provide motivation to stick with the activity
  • training on natural surfaces like grassy trails helps improve balance
  • being in a green space - whether it's a park or a walking trail - offers all the health benefits of using your sense in nature.

Activator poles mean Nordic walking can give you a betterupper body workout than regular walking. Image source: Getty

Activator poles … Do I need a licence?

There are different types of Nordic walking poles.

Activator poles have slightly different features to standard poles, for example, the rubber foot can be wider or flatter to provide greater stability, depending on what people need.

Standard poles are used largely behind the feet, and are always angled to the ground. Yet activator pole techniques rely on the poles being near vertical, and always ahead of the feet.

The activator style is perfect for those with knee or hip pain, those recovering from joint replacement procedures, or for those lacking in confidence because of balance and stability fears. It also provides an easy entry point for someone wanting to explore Nordic, or urban, walking.

5 key benefits of Nordic walking

  1. Full-body workout: Unlike traditional walking, Nordic walking engages your entire body. The poles propel you forward, activating your arms, shoulders, and core muscles. This extra effort increases the kilojoules you burn compared to regular walking, making it an excellent choice for those looking to shed a few extra kilos or maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Low impact on joints: One of the significant advantages of Nordic walking is its low impact on your joints. The poles provide stability and reduce the load on your knees, hips, and ankles. This makes it an ideal exercise for people of all fitness levels, including those recovering from injuries or looking for a joint-friendly alternative to high-impact activities like running.
  3. Improved cardiovascular fitness: Nordic walking isn't just about building strength; it's also an effective cardiovascular workout. By increasing your heart rate and oxygen intake, it enhances your overall fitness level. Regular Nordic walking can help lower your risk of heart disease, improve circulation, and boost endurance.
  4. Enhanced posture and balance: The use of poles in Nordic walking encourages proper posture and balance. As you engage your core muscles to maintain stability, you naturally stand taller and straighter. This can help alleviate common posture-related issues, such as back pain and neck strain, and even reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
  5. Mental wellbeing and stress reduction: Spending time outdoors in nature has well-documented benefits for mental health. Nordic walking combines the physical exercise with the calming effects of nature, promoting relaxation and reducing stress. It's an excellent way to clear your mind, boost mood, and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.

Health benefits galore

We all have a friend who’s complained about their gym membership – they said that they had been a member for 6 months and didn’t feel the slightest bit fitter.

We pointed out that you have to actually go to the gym. Sorry, it’s an old joke. However, it highlights a real issue. As we age, it invariably goes with the territory to have joint aches and pains, and often a loss of balance. These things compound to erode confidence, and we feel safer, well, just staying indoors.

Nordic walking, with or without activator poles, can be an absolute game changer for arthritis suffers particularly. The Arthritis Foundation recommends the exercise.

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