What is Nordic walking? How to Use Walking Sticks for a Complete, Heart-Healthy Workout

Walking is a pleasure. From hot girl walks to the 12-3-30 workout, walking is the latest fitness trend. But have you ever heard of Nordic walking? Imagine cross country skiing but lose the skis, keep the poles and walk instead. Nordic walking isn’t new, but it could be your new favorite workout.

What is Nordic walking?

Nordic walking is a full-body, low-impact workout that consists of walking with specialized poles. When done correctly, experts say it can engage up to 90% of your muscles and provide intense cardiovascular and strength training.

“The basic concept is that you add upper body activity in the context of using Nordic canes, or walking sticks, to help progress while walking,” Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told TODAY. Think of it as a way to improve your typical walks by using more muscle.

As the name suggests, this form of walking is popular in Scandinavian countries and originated in Finland, Jennifer Reed, Ph.D., director of the Exercise Physiology and Cardiovascular Health Laboratory at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, said. TODAY. While it’s often associated with walking, Reed said, Nordic walking or “urban poles” can be done by anyone, anywhere — as long as there’s room to walk.

To do good Nordic walking, let your arms move as they would naturally while walking, with poles in hand.
Yashoda / Getty Images

How do you go Nordic walking?

The key is not to overcomplicate it, the experts noted. The technique involves walking while holding each pole at your sides and moving the poles as opposed to your legs so that they are at a 45-degree angle, according to the American Nordic Walking Association (ANWA), which has a free beginner’s guide on their website has.

“Think of what the normal arm swing would be if you were walking without the canes and accentuate that with the canes in your hand. In addition, the posts come into a vertical position with every foot strike, they make contact [with the ground] above the foot, then you can use them to push forward and accelerate,” Baggish explained.

You’ll need poles specifically designed for Nordic walking, which are different from those used for trekking, the experts noted. Nordic walking poles usually have rubber tips on the ends, which can be removable, and the grips have wrist straps to hold the poles on your hands, according to ANWA.

These sticks come in different prices, the experts said, but the most important thing is to find sticks that are the right length for your height and grip. Baggish encourages beginners to invest in wristbands that are higher quality or glove-like, “because they actually reduce wrist injuries and make the hand much more effective as an interface between the body and the pole.”

The right technique isn’t hard to master, the experts said, and once you do, it can provide huge benefits.

The benefits of Nordic walking

Make walking a full-body workout

Walking works the lower body — the legs, quads, glutes, calves — but not the upper body, Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and TODAY contributing health and fitness writer, told TODAY. “Walking with poles turns it into a total-body workout,” Mansour said, as the poles add strength training and cardio components for the upper body, working the arms, shoulders, upper back and core.

“If you get the poles in, you’re really moving until 80 to 90% of the major muscle groups are involved, so you’re just getting a better workout,” Baggish said. Nordic walking can become even more challenging if you walk faster and are more involved in the polls, Reed said, which raises your heart rate.

“The more muscle groups engaged in a meaningful way, the more calories you burn per unit of time or per distance,” says Baggish, who estimates calorie consumption increases 40-50% when people use their upper body in the North. walking versus just walking. “The analogy that some people like, which I think might be helpful, is the difference between a stair tread and an elliptical,” Baggish said.

Reduce the risk of injury

Another advantage of Nordic walking? The poles can provide stability and prevent falls, the experts noted. “For anyone dealing with frailty or balance issues, I think this is a great tool to have in their repertoire,” Baggish said.

An effective workout for heart patients

Nordic walking is also great for heart health. A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that Nordic walking was superior to other exercise methods for improving functional capacity or ability to perform physical activities in patients with heart disease.

“The main goal of the trial was to look at the effects of different exercise strategies on adults with cardiovascular disease,” Reed said, adding that researchers wanted to see if one method could be more successful at improving long-term functional or physical exertion of a patient. capacity, which is strongly related to future cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

All of the study participants had a previous cardiovascular event or procedure such as placing a stent, said Reed, who co-authored the study. Researchers compared the long-term effects of three different forms of exercise as part of a cardiovascular rehabilitation program: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), moderate-to-vigorous intensity continuous training (MICT), and Nordic walking.

“In fact, over the course of 12 weeks, Nordic walking had superior clinical benefits for exercise capacity than HIIT and MICT … not what we expected,” said Reed. While all exercise methods improved depression and quality of life in patients, Nordic walking produced the greatest improvement in functional capacity that was maintained over time.

“Nordic walking twice a week for 3 months really helped improve exercise capacity and these benefits lasted for up to 26 weeks,” Reed said. The study authors concluded that cardiovascular rehabilitation programs can perform Nordic walking with confidence.

These findings are exciting, Reed added, because something as simple and accessible as walking with canes can measure up to conventional exercises like HIIT and MICT.

It can help anyone improve their heart health

While Nordic walking is certainly beneficial for people with heart disease, Reed said, it’s clear that it’s a great option for anyone looking for a heart-healthy workout.

“You can walk a few times a week and get really huge clinical benefits when it comes to improving exercise capacity, which will translate into a reduced risk of cardiovascular events,” Reed said. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The bottom line is that all the risk factors that cause heart disease or more specifically coronary disease — things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes — are all improved through physical activity,” Baggish said.

How often should you walk? It depends on the person and their activity level, the experts noted, but any amount of activity is better than being sedentary. The “sweet spot” for most healthy adults is 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, Baggish said, which can be broken down into whichever way people feel comfortable.

Given all the benefits, why isn’t Nordic walking more popular?

“Europeans have embraced it much faster and much more effectively than we have here in the United States,” Baggish said, but there may also be a stigma surrounding Nordic walking among young people. “People see it as something geared towards older adults. I don’t think they really understand how intense it can be,” Reed said.

Most people can safely incorporate Nordic walking into their fitness routine, the experts noted, but as with any new form of exercise, always check with your doctor first if you’re concerned.

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