Health benefits of Nordic walking

So it’s day 11 of the New Year and you’re half way through the second week of sticking to your lose weight, get fit resolutions (or so I hope!). Fed up of running round the block yet or swimming up and down, up and endlessly down the local pool?  Well, I might just have an idea for something different you can do to shed those pounds and strengthen your ticker. Nordic walking! It’s walking but not as we know it. There’s a twist, two of them in fact. Called poles.

Nordic walking is a simple and accessible form of outdoor exercise that is the same as brisk walking with the additional use of specially designed poles. The advantage is that it actively involves the upper body and arms thereby increasing the work done by the body.

This healthy and easy to do activity has become more popular in the general population of several northern and central European countries. A team in Austria recently carried out a systematic review to analyse the health benefits of Nordic walking in general and to compare it to brisk walking and jogging with regard to its’ effects on heart rate, maximal oxygen consumption, quality of life and other health related measures.

Sixteen randomised controlled trials (RCT) were identified for inclusion involving 1062 patients. The mean study duration was 3-24 weeks and these represented the long-term health effects. A further 11 observational studies with 831 patients were included in the analyses to demonstrate the short-term health effects of the activity. This is what they found:

  • The short term and long term effects of Nordic walking are equal to or superior to brisk walking and (in one study) to jogging in healthy subjects
  • Short-term benefits of Nordic walking in comparison to brisk walking without poles show higher values of heart rate, oxygen consumption, respiratory exchange ratio, lactate thresholds and caloric expenditure as well as a superior lipid profile
  • Nordic walking has a range of beneficial effects and improves the quality of life in people with various diseases, such as Diabetes mellitus 2, obesity, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Parkinson’s disease. It is also beneficial for those suffering depression and general pain

But:

  • Some of the smaller studies included in the analyses were sometimes inconsistent or not in keeping with the findings of the RCTs

The authors concluded:

Nordic walking is suitable to close the intensity gap between walking and jogging and thus presents an alternative for everybody seeking a sport that fulfills the needs of daily physical activity at an optimal intensity that results in gaining health benefits while exceeding personal exertion limits.

Current literature unanimously identifies Nordic walking as a safe, feasible, and readily available form of endurance exercise training, which exerts a panoply of beneficial effects in a wide range of people with various diseases and the healthy.

So if you find brisk walking too tame and jogging is just a quick step too far, why not bag yourself a couple of poles and head out for some Nordic fun? You might put a bit of zest back into your exercise regime and keep those health benefits coming in 2013.

Link:

Tschentscher M., Niederseer D., Niebauer J. Health benefits of nordic walking: A systematic review (2013)  American Journal of Preventive Medicine,  44  (1) , pp. 76-84.