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Fitness for lazy people or Nordic walking

What is Nordic walking and why is it useful?
I often see people on a running track walking with poles, similar to ski poles. What is Nordic walking and why is it useful?

A.Savich, Minsk

Nordic walking (walking with poles) is a kind of physical activity using a certain technique. In the late 1990s, it became popular globally, but it’s been around for centuries. Pilgrims used poles to help them through long journeys. Wellness centres have been using poles in physiotherapy exercises for a long time but the modern version resembles the motion of professional Finnish skiers, who would train out of season by running with ski poles.

Nordic walking is also called northern or Norwegian and its secret lies in its simplicity, needing nothing but poles. The technique can be mastered independently, although you can employ an instructor to help you.

Part of Nordic walking’s popularity is due to its ability to help with gradual weight loss; it burns up 40 percent more calories than usual walking. Moreover, anyone can take it up, regardless of age, weight or physical condition, and it can be done anywhere, in the town or countrywide, and whatever the season, alone or with friends. It’s what we all dream of: minimum effort and maximum results. Like swimming, it employs almost all body muscles and, thanks to leaning against poles, it reduces stress on joints and the spine, allowing those who can’t run or move too quickly to take part.

Poles for Nordic walking are usually made of aluminium, carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, or composite materials. If you look closer, you can see that they aren’t ski poles, being much shorter. If you use poles of the wrong length, it can strain the knees, ankles and back. With special graphite tips, they avoid catching on rough road surfaces while rubber caps help grip smooth asphalt. Of course, on snow or ice, there’s no need, as the graphite spikes create traction.

There are two types of pole: fixed length and telescopic, with the top part moving forward from the lower and then fixed in position. Both types can be found in shops, with thongs fixed to the handles in such a way to allow leverage without squeezing (requiring less effort).

The length of a pole is calculated by the formula: height × 0.68. For example, if you are 170cm tall, you’ll need poles 115cm in length. No special footwear is needed; ordinary trainers are fine.

The technique for Nordic walking is simple and natural; just walk rhythmically, as you would usually, with hands and feet moving forward and back by turn, only more vigorously. Find your tempo through practice.

Nordic walking has so many positive health benefits, as it trains about 90 percent of the body’s muscles, increasing tone and making your heart work. It reduces cholesterol and improves your respiratory and vascular systems, while keeping joints supple and reducing pressure on knees and the spine. It reduces the load on your waist, removes pain in the neck and shoulders, corrects posture, and improves balance and co-ordination, as well as promoting weight loss.

It appears easy, yet gives the heart, lungs and muscles a true workout. Nordic walking is almost unique, in being recommended to those both overweight and elderly.

You should see results in just 4-6 weeks of regular training, with more significant results evident after a year.

By Tatiana Zhukova
Doctor of higher category, M.D., Ph.D.
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