Over the last few days I have been running a number of fitness assessments for walkers on our Body Boost programme. Every single person has made a marked improvement on his or her earlier assessment, generally done about six weeks ago. One walker took nearly a minute off her previous half-mile distance time. These improvements are a fantastic boost for our walkers. Here’s why.
Obviously the first point is that they have been able to see a measurable improvement in their walking speed. It is a positive endorsement of the fact that they are getting fitter and faster and that is a great feeling.
What, though, does that increased fitness actually mean?
Well, in this context, we’re talking about aerobic – or cardiovascular - fitness. This is the efficiency with which your heart is able to pump oxygenated blood to the muscles that need it and carry away waste products such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. The benefits? Take a look at this list:
- Reduces a myriad of health risks. It reduces your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also lowers your risk of developing many other conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and colon and breast cancer.
- Strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. Just like lifting weights repeatedly can make your muscles stronger, regular cardio exercise actually makes your heart (which is also a muscle) stronger. The stronger your heart is, the more blood it can pump with each beat. That means your body gets oxygen faster and more efficiently.
- Keeps your arteries clear. Aerobic exercise boosts your good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers your bad cholesterol (LDL), which can lessen the build-up of plaque in your arteries. Less plaque means blood can flow more freely to and from the heart.
- Lowers your resting heart rate. A heart that’s in good shape actually beats fewer times when you’re at rest. It’s a great indicator of fitness and many athletes have very low resting heart rates.
- Increases your stamina and energy. Although you might feel tired in the short term after a Nordic walking session, over the long term your stamina will increase and you will have more energy. This also means that you can go for longer, harder walks (or generally workout longer) without getting tired. Plus it helps you recover faster after exercise.
- Boosts your mood. Aerobic exercise, particularly an outdoor exercise like Nordic walking, helps reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
- Cuts your risk of catching colds. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who felt fit and stayed active nearly halved the odds of catching cold viruses. If they did catch an infection, it was less severe due to the fact that exercise helps bolster the immune system to fight off bugs.
- Improves sleep. You are likely to sleep better and feel more alert during the day if you exercise.
- Helps to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Your cardio fitness will increase if you get out and exercise more or at a higher intensity (or both). All of this requires energy. So improved aerobic fitness means you will have been burning more calories to get there and assisting weight loss.
- Means you’ll live longer! Studies show that people who participate in regular aerobic exercise live longer than those who don’t.
How much should I be exercising to reap these benefits?
It’s amazing that something as simple as moving your body can have such dramatic benefits. So how much should we be exercising to benefit? I’ve already written a blog about this but to recap, the Chief Medical Officer says at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. This is the same guidance as in America and as that given by the World Health Organisation in their global recommendations on physical activity for health.
Many of you combine our Nordic walking classes with other things but, if you are Nordic walking with us for your exercise, this means that you need to be coming three times a week.
How can I measure my progress?
It is an extremely powerful motivator to be able to measure you fitness improvement. However, human beings are very good at 'normalizing'; so as you get fitter, you’ll forget how far you’ve come – unless you make a note of it. Here are some ideas:
- Buy a fitness tracker. There are lots on the market and they are becoming more sophisticated, giving feedback and enabling you to monitor sleep as well. Many of our walkers use these so, if you’re interested, why not ask around.
- Sign up for the Nordic walking challenge events. There are currently four Nordic walking challenge events annually over distances over 5,10 and 20k. Why not join up for them? We always have a group going - it’s social and you can assess how your fitness is progressing.
- Join the Ashton Court 5k parkrun. Closer to home, every Saturday at 9am there is a 5k parkrun in Ashton Court. Nordic walkers have been specifically invited to join. We are discussing organising something as a club but, in the meantime, why not sign up? Going once every six weeks or so would be a great way to measure your fitness progress. For more information click here.
- Sign up for Body Boost. We run a specific fitness programme based around Nordic walking and your individual goals. It includes a cardio fitness test at the beginning and end; five weekly Nordic walking classes with us; a tailored training schedule (including exercises) to help you reach your goals; a free fitness band; weekly log sheets; and support and guidance from us. If you’re interested in kick starting your fitness regime or getting in shape for a holiday or specific event this is ideal. For more information just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A final thought: Some years ago I read a quote which I have never forgotten - you can make excuses or get results but you can’t do both. At Bristol Nordic Walking you don’t need excuses - you can get results and have fun doing it!