Nordic Walking: Health Benefits & How to Get Started

Nordic Walking as part of the Nordic Diet

What’s a low-impact, full-body, high-intensity workout that can have you challenging your muscles while burning off loads of body fat at the same time? Take a look at Nordic walking. It’s a fitness craze that has spanned decades and continues to be a frontrunner when it comes to a fun, all-encompassing workout.

What is Nordic Walking?

The origin of today’s Nordic walking goes as far back as 1996 when a gym teacher in Finland named Leena Jääskeläinen introduced the world to a routine of walking with poles. It was initially designated as summer training for cross-country skiers but soon morphed into a year-round activity.

Similar to what you might see cross-country skiers doing in the dead of winter, Nordic walking can be done year-round and doesn’t require snow. You may have seen speed walkers trekking their way through the neighborhood, and the movement is somewhat similar, albeit with the addition of what looks like ski poles.

The poles (also called walking sticks) are specially designed for walking and plant themselves on the ground as you swing your arms so you can use them to push off and propel your body forward. This type of movement enables you to use your whole body during your walking workout and effectively double the calorie burn.

How to Get Started with Nordic Walking

Nordic walking is different from normal walking because you walk faster than you would with simple walking, you use poles to help move yourself forward at a brisk pace, and your walk involves the use of your entire body.

• As you get ready to start, attach the poles to your hands through the use of the wrist wraps on each pole. This setup allows you to both grip the handles when necessary (during the forward momentum of your stride) and to alternatively let go of the poles without dropping them on the negative portion of your stride.

• To begin, practice simply walking somewhat normally with your arms hanging naturally by your sides (with the poles attached and dragging). Keep your back straight, chest high, and head up.

• Once you’re accustomed to walking with the poles dragging by your sides, start picking up your pace a bit. When you swing your arms (during the course of your natural walking gait), you’ll notice that the poles will naturally set up on the ground each time you swing your arms forward.

• As you progress, you’ll start to feel the handles move into your hands as they move forward. Next, start grabbing the handles as your arms are in the forward movement pattern of your walk, and when the poles naturally plant into the ground as you swing your arms.

• Once you get faster, you’ll grab the handles on the forward movement of your arms and push the poles into the ground as your body moves forward and your arms naturally follow a rear trajectory. Let go of the handles as your arm travels behind your body.

Benefits of Nordic Walking

Why is Nordic walking better than just regular old-fashioned walking? While there are many benefits to your usual walks, there are several reasons Nordic walking may be even better:

It’s a full-body workout— not only do you thoroughly tax your leg muscles with the walking movement, but you also have to engage your core and upper body to a great extent to propel your body forward. The combination of relaxing and then stressing various muscle groups throughout the walk helps strengthen the entire body with alternating and varying levels of work.

Improve your functional capacity— according to the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Nordic walking improves the ability of patients with coronary heart disease to function in daily activities. The study compared the effects of high-intensity interval training, moderate intensity continuous training, and Nordic walking. Nordic walking came out the winner as it showed not only a better ability to function with normal daily activities, but it also vastly improved cardiovascular fitness and even boosted mental health.

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It’s a low-impact workout— walking itself is a nice, gentle movement, and adding the Nordic walking poles to the mix just improves the effectiveness of this workout without adding any undue stress on the joints, especially the knees and hips, which are often negatively impacted in normal workouts. It’s a great form of exercise for virtually every level of fitness and any body type.

Promotes better balance and posture— Nordic walking requires you to develop balance as you gain speed ability on your walks. You’ll also benefit from the upright posture you need to maintain to perform this exercise well.

Where to Buy Nordic Walking Sticks

Nordic walking sticks (or poles) are easy to find and also quite easy on the wallet. For under twenty dollars, you, too, can get started with your very own Nordic walking program. Check your local stores to see if they are in stock or, as usual, you can easily find these lightweight (and often adjustable) walking poles in all your favorite online locations.

With all the great benefits of Nordic walking and the boost in fitness across the board, why not add a little something extra to your mundane walks and reap the exciting benefits of this incredible workout? Getting started is easy, and the learning curve is minimal.