Not doing any physical activity is bad for us, no matter what our age or health condition. As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our health. It will help us to continue to do the things we enjoy and stay independent as we age.
So how much physical activity do older adults need to keep healthy? Well, according to the government, for those aged 65 and over:
- At least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week (or a shorter amount of vigorous intensity exercise).
- Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
- Exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week for those who are at risk of falls.
(NHS Choices: Physical Activity Guidelines for older Adults)
On the basis of the above criteria, Nordic walking must surely be the ‘go to’ exercise of choice. Here’s why:
It’s a moderate intensity aerobic activity
Nordic walking raises your heart rate and can definitely make you feel out of breath. (A study published by the Cooper Institute, Texas, reported that the average increase in oxygen consumption through Nordic walking was 20%). Generally speaking though, you can ‘walk and talk’ as the effort is distributed between your upper and lower body making it feel much easier than walking without poles. Consistently people find they can walk further and faster Nordic walking than they ever considered possible.
It’s a whole body exercise
Nordic walking works both your upper and lower body and uses over 90% of the body’s muscles. It is therefore a powerful muscle strengthening exercise, working all the major muscle groups.
It improves balance and strengthens your bones
Every time you plant the pole into the ground to propel you forwards you engage and strengthen your core muscles. This in turn improves your balance, which is a key component in fall prevention for older adults. Not only that, as a weight-bearing, aerobic, muscle-strengthening exercise it helps counteract the natural loss in bone mass and density that comes with age. Nordic walking can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
Impressive as this is, the benefits of Nordic walking continue far beyond these three key areas. Here are some other benefits:
- The use of two poles gives both stability and support and makes it an empowering and accessible form of exercise for older adults.
- It is a sociable activity, often with a community feel. This makes it ideal for older adults who can often feel lonely or isolated.
- It is outdoors, thereby bringing with it all the benefits of outdoor exercise, such as enhancing mood and self-esteem.
- It helps correct poor posture patterns and re-educates us on how to hold ourselves correctly, both while in motion and when stationary.
- It relieves neck, shoulder and back pain and improves mobility in these areas (see my earlier blog).
- It promotes good circulation through the active foot-roll and arm swing (those of you who walk with me know that this is one of the things I have benefitted most from Nordic walking).
- It helps mobilise stiff, aching joints and takes the pressure off sore hips and knees.
- It burns up to 46% more calories than ordinary walking which makes it ideal for weight management.
- The total body workout that Nordic walking brings, coupled with warm-up exercises and cool-down stretches, helps increase flexibility and all round functional capability.
- IT’S FUN!
Although most of our classes at Bristol Nordic Walking are hour long, we also run a slower paced, shorter walk every Tuesday morning at 11.15am on The Downs. So please do not worry about your speed or how long you think you can walk for. If you are interested in trying Nordic walking just call or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org). Nordic walking may be just the thing you are looking for!