Nordic Walking The Tonic

Walking Scandi-style

Don’t fancy the gym? Walk this way…

Love exercise, but baffled as to why anyone would put themselves through the kind of pain that is a marathon or triathlon? Want to get fitter without ending up in physio? If you’ve no intention of joining the hordes of post-millennial runners in their tedious ubiquity and requests for sponsorship, then how about walking?

Before you let out a pffft of contempt, forget walking-to-work, or getting off the bus one stop earlier (although those are good, too) and think full-body-workout walking, the kind practised by sinewy cross-country skiers – when there’s no actual snow.

Like all Scandi ideas, Nordic Walking has become something of a hit in the UK and is the ‘fastest growing fitness activity in the world,’ according to Nordic Walking UK.

Originating in Finland, it’s like walking, only better as it uses loads more energy with relatively little effort. If you’re beginning to wonder whether this smacks of optimism or fake news, bear with me.

Nordic Walking burns almost twice as many calories as ordinary walking, and uses 90 percent of the body’s skeletal muscles

So how can one kind of walking be better than, err, another kind of walking?!

Unlike your morning trudge to work, or your daily lap with the dog, Nordic Walking burns almost twice as many calories as ordinary walking, and uses 90 percent of the body’s skeletal muscles – even when you take into account stooping down to perform a ‘downward dog’ (aka picking up your beloved pet’s bowel movements.) And unlike pounding the streets in lycra, Nordic Walking shouldn’t hurt as there’s minimal stress on the body. So far, so amazing.

How does it work?

Walking the Nordic way transforms each stride into a whole body exercise. The technique involves propelling yourself along using a pair of poles as additional legs. The poles increase the use of the upper body muscles, ensuring they work as hard as the lower limbs. Although the poles increase the level of exercise, they also provide support by reducing the weight on the knees and lower body joints – making it feel easier. Ideal if you’re a bit creaky.

Jean Jonestook up Nordic Walking aged 64. Now 70, her fitness has rocketed.

“I love it! A friend and I went on a group course because we wanted to exercise our arms and upper bodies as well as our legs,” says Jean. “We’ve done it ever since and walk once a week for two hours.

“We are really lucky because we live in the New Forest and walk at quite a good pace but always have time to watch the deer and ponies and look at the stunning surroundings. Once you can walk and talk at the same time, it’s a very sociable activity. It doesn’t involve a huge outlay and it doesn’t necessarily involve Lycra!

“Before I started Nordic walking, I had to have some hospital tests done, including heart monitoring and treadmill. I had to have them done again a few years later and the results were perfect! I asked the consultant if the walking had helped and he was sure it had.”

Strong muscles and bone

According to research, Nordic Walking is particularly beneficial for muscle and bone health, which is hugely important for everyone, particularly adults over 65. A recent review by Public Health England and the Centre for Ageing Better cited Nordic Walking as one of the top five activities for strengthening muscles and bones, along with ball and racket sports, dance and resistance training.

The UK Chief Medical Officer recommends that we all do strengthening and balancing activities at least twice a week – yet only one in three men and one in four women currently manage this. As well as vastly reducing the risk of falls in later life, such activities also help to improve mood, sleeping patterns, energy levels, and reduce the risk of an early death.

Yet for many older participants, Nordic Walking doesn’t just stave off illness, it staves off loneliness, too. Instructor Julia Tilbury runs the group Surrey Striders.

“Most of my walkers initially try Nordic Walking for fitness and health objectives,” says Julia. “Not only do they become fitter and healthier with weight loss for some, but they build friendships, and the social, relaxed ethos encourages them to continue. I’m often referred to as the ‘Pied Piper of Surrey’. We’re a community, not just a Nordic Walking group.”

Julia, a former teaching assistant, took up Nordic Walking in 2009 after a back injury forced her to give up running.

“I loved it so much and got a real sense of wellbeing walking in nature, so I decided to set up my own business and share my love of the countryside and the activity with others.”

All you need is a decent pair of shoes and some poles

There is no doubt that spending time outdoors is good for mental health, and that being in nature can improve conditions like depression and anxiety. Combine those benefits with exercise and company and you have a win-win-win formula.

All you need is a decent pair of shoes and some poles. Not to be confused with trekking poles, or those used for a certain kind of dancing, Nordic Walking poles have an ergonomic handle and a boot-like tip. They can be bought for less than £50 although if you join a class, they’ll often be provided.

It’s also important to learn the correct technique from a qualified instructor – it’s not difficult, just slightly more technical than placing one foot in front of the other. As you walk, you swing your arm forward from your shoulder with your elbow straight and plant the pole into the ground, creating a full body movement. You then ‘propel’ yourself forward in a motion which activates your core muscles. And most of us could do with activating those!

So if you’re looking for an enjoyable route to fitness, wellbeing and friendship, Nordic Walking could be one Scandi trend worth trying. Time to get your poles on?

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Becky Dickinson

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