What Is Nordic Walking And Is It An Alternative To Running?

With the addition of a couple of walking sticks, Nordic walking not only becomes a great form of exercise, it rivals running in terms of the benefits gained.

March 24, 2016
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Walking is one of the most common forms of exercise in the entire world, with millions of people across the globe participating on a daily basis. Part of its popularity springs from the fact that it is very easy to do and can be done just about anywhere. On top of that, it brings some surprising health benefits, including maintaining a consistent level of weight and helping to fend off high blood pressure and heart disease.

It turns out that even something as simple and healthy as taking a brisk walk can be improved upon, as evidenced by the sport of Nordic walking. This alternative approach to our most basic form of exercise reportedly provides substantial benefits over standard walking. In fact, it has been shown that the activity can increase strength, improve cardio conditioning, and burn more calories too.

Just what is Nordic walking, and is it right for you? Read on to find out.

What Is Nordic Walking? 

Simply put, Nordic walking is a more fitness-oriented version of standard walking during which participants use trekking poles to help maintain their balance and move more quickly. The poles allow Nordic walkers to use their upper body to help propel them along, pushing off with their poles with each step they take. This has the added benefit of making Nordic walking more of an all-body workout when compared with more traditional styles of walking.

The sport traces its official origins back to Finland in the late 1970s, although hikers and backpackers had been using trekking poles for many years before that. The idea stems from a book written by Mauri Repo, who devised an off-season training program for cross-country skiers who used their poles even when they weren’t on skis. The added benefits of this type of workout wouldn’t be fully revealed until later, but it was the start of a movement nonetheless.

Health Benefits 

Nordic walking has been shown to provide all of the same benefits of regular walking in terms of reducing blood pressure and promoting a healthy heart. But beyond that, it also manages to deliver a better all-around workout in nearly every way.

For example, studies have shown that Nordic walkers burn up to 45 percent more calories during a typical workout than those who don’t use trekking poles. If used regularly those same poles help to build lean muscle in the arms, shoulders, abs, and chest, which is certainly not a benefit that most people see from traditional walking workouts alone. And because Nordic walkers are moving at a faster pace, they also see improved cardiovascular efficiency.

Who’s It For? 

Just about anyone who enjoys walking can make the switch to the Nordic style if they’d like to give it a go. All it requires is a set of trekking poles (sometimes referred to as walking sticks) and a bit of practice using them. It takes just a short time to get accustomed to walking with the poles, and once you do it becomes second nature. Before you know it you’ll be walking faster, incorporating your upper body into the workout, and reaping the health benefits that come along with the sport.

Nordic walking has also been shown to be of great benefit to older adults. Its combination of high intensity—but low impact—workouts can be quite a boon for older folks who want to stay in shape or even drop a few pounds. It’ll also help to build and maintain strength and develop aerobic capacity, all without putting undue stress on knees, hips, or feet.

Nordic Walking vs. Running 

So how does Nordic walking compare with running? Believe it or not, it stacks up favorably in a lot of ways. For instance, although Nordic walking isn’t nearly as intense of a workout, the addition of the trekking poles does move the bar closer in terms of the amount of energy expended and overall health benefits received. Running still offers a higher level of calories burned, of course, but it also puts a lot more stress on your hips, knees, and ankles. That can increase your chance of suffering an injury or lead to long-term complications.

Ultimately it comes down to your own personal preference and what your fitness goals are. If you want to compete in half or full marathons, Nordic walking won’t get you prepared for the experience. On the other hand, if you’re looking to get in better shape and improve your overall health without putting undue stress on your joints, Nordic walking could be exactly what you’re looking for. Its combination of all-body workout and low-impact cardio is also a perfect combination for those who simply don’t like running.

If you’re looking to add a new element to your usual workout routine that doesn’t involve running, Nordic walking is an excellent alternative. Mixing in this type of exercise will increase your upper body strength, reduce your blood pressure, and build stronger lungs and heart. It’s hard to not be intrigued with those kinds of results. Who would have thought adding a couple of sticks to a walking routine would be so beneficial?

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