Over the years, and during the last few days especially, many folk have asked me what nordic walking is, and why I seem to be so fanatical about it. In the blog on my training, last Friday, I explained that I took up nordic walking around 12 years ago, and that I soon discovered the fitness, health and wellbeing benefits that the activity offered me. So here is a little background on nordic walking, and some personal thoughts.
One of the two UK national organisations, British Nordic Walking, describes nordic walking as an ‘enhanced walking technique that uses poles to work your upper body as well as your legs’, and in many respects the activity does indeed serve as an outdoor cross-trainer. The key differentiator of the nordic walking technique, as compared to ‘normal’ walking, is that the nordic poles are used for forward propulsion, resulting in significantly enhanced performance. Correctly executed the nordic technique increases efficiency by up to 30%, thus enabling greater walking speed and longer distances to be covered.
Nordic walking originated as an out-of-season ski fitness training program in Finland during the 1970’s, gaining popularity within Scandinavia and into central Europe, and eventually emerging into the UK in the early 2000’s. As the appeal of the sport has widened, many claims have been made around the positive effects of nordic walking upon the health, fitness and wellbeing of participants, with the other UK national organisation, Nordic Walking UK, promoting the sport as being beneficial for ‘flexibility, balance and strength, general fitness and increased joint mobility’.
I have previously researched a little into the health benefits of nordic walking compared to other outdoor leisure activities, such as running and cycling. Drawing together some common threads from the medical literature, over many studies, nordic walking has been shown to be an effective and comprehensive whole body fitness regime, combining high intensity movement and efficient aerobic and cardio-vascular exercise with low perceived effort. The sport is particularly beneficial in improving respiratory and cardio-vascular fitness, and it exerts low impact on muscles and joints, whilst causing few injuries. The wellbeing of participants is further enhanced by being outdoors, and by exposure to sunlight and to nature, whilst mood might be improved through this connection with the outdoors and through the conviviality of walking and conversing with others. There is also an increasing amount of research evidence showing significant benefits to sufferers of certain specific illnesses, ailments and conditions as diverse as type-2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, and some neurological and emotional disorders. LETJOG’s support for Mind and for Parkinson’s UK reflects these positive attributes of nordic walking on mental health and to those with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
From a personal perspective, when nordic walking I find it possible to experience a unique combination of invigorating outdoor exercise and a calmness of mind that is hard to match in any other active outdoor leisure pursuit. Within this mindset the miles can fly by serendipitously, and this is the place that I shall be seeking along my LETJOG journey.