What is Nordic Walking? How to use walking sticks for a full-body, heart-healthy workout

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Walking takes some time. From the hot girl walk to the 12-3-30 workout, walking is the latest fitness trend. But have you heard of Nordic walking? Imagine skiing, but without the skis, holding the poles and walking 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 exercise that consists of walking using special poles. Experts say that when done correctly, it engages up to 90% of the muscles and offers a great cardiovascular and strength workout.

“The basic concept is to add upper body movement in the context of using Nordic poles or walking poles to help you move forward as you walk,” says Dr. This was announced today by Aaron Bagish, director of the Cardiovascular Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Think of it as a way to improve your typical walking routine by engaging more muscles.

As the name suggests, this type of walking is popular in the Scandinavian countries and originated in Finland, Jennifer Reed, director of the Exercise Physiology and Cardiovascular Health Laboratory at the University of Ottawa’s Cardiovascular Institute, told TODAY. While it’s often associated with walking, Reid says anyone who wants to do Nordic walking, or “urban polling,” can do it anywhere — as long as there’s room to walk.

For a proper Nordic walk, move naturally while walking with the crutches in hand.
Yashoda / Getty Images

How do you do Nordic walking?

The main thing is not to complicate it too much, experts noted. According to the American Nordic Walking Association (ANWA), which has a free beginner’s guide on their website, the technique involves walking with each pole next to your body and placing the poles opposite your feet, which are at a 45-degree angle.

“Think about what your normal arm swing would be like if you were walking without a pole, and accentuate that with the poles in your hand. With this, the poles come into a vertical position with each foot strike and touch each other [with the ground] on the leg, then you can use them to push forward and accelerate,” Baggish said.

Experts say you’ll need specially designed poles for Nordic walking, which are different from those used for trekking. According to ANWA, Nordic walking poles have rubber tips on the end that can be removed, and the grips have wrist straps to secure the poles to your hands.

Experts say these poles come in a variety of prices, but the important part is finding poles that are the right length for your height and grip. Baggish encourages beginners to invest in high-quality or glove-like wrist wraps, “because they really reduce wrist injury and make the hand much more effective as an interface between the body and the pole.”

Mastering the right technique isn’t difficult, experts say, and once you do, the benefits are huge.

The benefits of Nordic walking

Make walking a total body workout

Walking works the lower body — legs, quads, glutes, calves — but not the upper body, says Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and TODAY contributing health and fitness writer. “Pole walking makes it a total body workout,” Mansoor said, because the poles add upper-body strength training and a cardio component, working the arms, shoulders, upper back and core.

“When you deadlift, you’re really moving, 80 to 90 percent of your major muscle groups, so you’re just getting a better workout,” Baggish said. If you walk faster and take more surveys, walking north can become more difficult, Reed said, which increases the heart rate.

“The more muscle groups you have, the more calories you burn per unit of time or distance,” said Baggish, who estimates that people in Scandinavia burn 40-50% more calories when they use their upper body. walking versus walking regularly. “I think the analogy that some people like is the difference between a stepper and an elliptical trainer,” Baggish said.

Reduce the risk of injury

Another benefit of Nordic walking? Poles provide stability and prevent falls, experts noted. “For someone who deals with frailty or balance issues, I think it’s an amazing tool to have in their repertoire,” Baggish said.

Effective exercise for heart patients

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

“The primary goal of the trial was to examine the effects of different exercise strategies for adults with cardiovascular disease,” Reed said, adding that the researchers wanted to see if one approach would be more successful in improving a patient’s long-term performance or exercise. ability, which is closely related to future cardiovascular events such as heart attack.

All of the study participants had a previous cardiovascular event or procedure, such as stenting, said Reed, one of the study’s authors. 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 interval training (MICT), and Nordic walking.

“Over 12 weeks, Nordic walking actually had higher clinical benefits in terms of exercise capacity than HIIT and MICT … not what we expected,” Reid said. While all exercise modalities improved depression and quality of life among patients, Nordic walking led to the best improvement in functional capacity sustained over time.

“Nordic walking twice a week really improved exercise capacity over 3 months, and these benefits lasted up to 26 weeks,” Reed said. The authors of the study concluded that cardiovascular rehabilitation programs can safely use Nordic walking.

The findings are interesting, Reed added, because something as simple and accessible as walking with poles measures up to more conventional exercises like HIIT and MICT.

It helps everyone to improve their heart health

While Nordic walking is definitely beneficial for people with heart disease, Reid says it’s clearly a great option for anyone looking for a heart-healthy workout.

“You can walk a couple of times a week and really get a big clinical benefit when it comes to increasing exercise capacity, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events,” Reed said. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

“Essentially, all of the risk factors that lead to heart disease, or more specifically coronary disease — things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes — all of these are improved by physical activity,” Baggish said.

How much to walk? It depends on the person and how active they are, experts noted, but any amount of activity is better than inactivity. The “sweet spot” for most healthy adults is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, Baggish said, which can be split up however people feel comfortable.

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

“Europeans have adopted it much faster and more effectively than we have in the States,” Baggish said, but there can also be a stigma surrounding Nordic walking among young people. “People see it as something for older people. “I don’t think they realize how powerful it is,” Reid said.

Experts note that most people can incorporate Nordic walking into their fitness routine, but as with any new form of exercise, talk to your doctor first if you have any concerns.

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