Whether you want to shed a few pounds, increase your fitness, protect your joints or simply have a fun sociable walk, Nordic walking ticks all the boxes. It may not be as trendy as running or cycling but it offers much more of a total body workout and is truly something that will help keep you fit and active for the rest of your life.
Our Bristol Nordic walkers have had first hand experience of its many benefits but if you are new to this incredible health sport or are just inquisitive, here's a short list of what Nordic walking offers.
1. It’s enjoyable – and anyone can be good at it
There are many things in life that we have to do because we are told to or ought to. Exercise should not be one of them. Nordic walking is simply a good walk made doubly effective by adding poles and clever technique and enjoyment is a key benefit for our Nordic walkers. Exercising in the fresh air; the feeling of fitness and wellbeing it gives them; the places it takes them to; the people they meet; the non-competitive nature of it; and the ability to be good at it even (especially) if you’re not the ‘sporty’ type are part what makes Nordic walking so unique.
2. Helps with weight loss
Nordic walking is energy thirsty. In our research project carried out last year walkers burnt up to 45% more calories Nordic walking than ordinary walking (the average was 15%). Other research records similar gains. This is because Nordic walking brings many more muscles into play than ordinary walking – your chest, arms, shoulders, abs and other core muscles are all involved as well as your legs. Plus the poles propel you forwards helping you walk faster, raising your heart rate and expending energy.
3. Tones your muscles and helps keep your bones strong
Muscles need to be worked to stay in good shape and Nordic walking works over 90% of them. Public Health England recently specifically recommended Nordic walking as a muscle and bone strengthening and balance activity. It tones your legs, sculpts your arms, cinches your waist and tightens your core. Its weightbearing nature and the added resistance provided by the poles also helps improve bone health and strength.
4. Protects your hip and knee joints
Those of our walkers with sore hips or knees frequently tell us how good Nordic walking is for easing the stress on their lower body. Research supports this. In one trial comparing the forces on joints when Nordic walking vs ordinary walking on the flat, there was an overall reduction in the sheer and compression forces on the hip and knee joints and an astonishing 28% reduction on the shear force at the knee. It was not just hips and knees, the lumber spine and ankles also benefited. Improved posture through Nordic walking as well as taking some of the load off the lower body through the poles clearly benefits joints.
5. Strengthens your heart and lungs and benefits those with asthma
Nordic walking gets your heart rate up. Much more so than regular walking. Our research showed an increase of up to 33 beats per minute when walking on the flat. It also makes you puffed because you’re walking faster and using more muscles. The benefits of exercise for your heart and lungs are well documented. Amongst other things it helps lower blood pressure, reduces your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and keeps your arteries clear.
Asthma sufferers who have started Nordic walking with us have seen great improvements. Here’s what Heather has to say: “Signing-up as a member for two sessions a week, I quickly started to notice the health benefits: improved fitness; less breathlessness; an improvement in my walking and posture; and an overall sense of achievement…My asthma has receded to the extent that I no longer use steroid or reliever inhalers and although not confirmed by my GP yet, I feel it has resolved. I am not afraid of the challenge of exercise; I now embrace it.”
6. Boosts your circulation
All exercise (if done at a sufficiently intense level) improves circulation because it increases the rate at which blood is pumped round the body. However Nordic walking is additionally beneficial. The technique encourages active feet, a full arm swing, and squeezing and opening the hands round the pole. All of which boosts circulation, particularly the efficient return of blood back to the heart.
7. Improves your lymph drainage
The lymphatic system is hugely important. It helps to protect us from infection and disease and is a vital part of our immune system. We have clusters of lymph nodes all over our body including under our armpits and Nordic walking helps these in particular to function properly through its emphasis on good posture, correct breathing and a full arm swing.
8. Mental wellbeing
Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety and it’s even more effective when done in a green environment. No surprises here - nature is intrinsically good for the spirit. Not only is Nordic walking outdoors, it’s also a social activity – another stress buster, mood enhancer, and friendship creator. You’re literally and metaphorically moving forwards.
9. Visit new places
Whether it’s new parks and walks locally or trips further afield, Nordic walking is a gateway for exploring. The poles provide support and the technique promotes good posture giving you the confidence and stamina to tackle challenges that you’d never thought possible. Our Bristol Nordic Walking 10 mile Sugar Loaf challenge earlier this year is a perfect example – over fifty of our club walking distances they’d never believed possible before starting Nordic walking.
Not every sport suits everyone but walking is hard-wired into our DNA and Nordic walking adds a mighty turbo-boost. At Bristol Nordic Walking we've taken things further still. We offer Shape-Up courses to help kick-start weight-loss and healthy eating goals; we run Nordic walking workout classes which add extra resistance exercises to a regular Nordic walk; and we've started linking with Nordic walking groups overseas, visiting them, welcome them to Bristol, and extending our friendships beyond our borders.