Picture a brilliant blue sky over a vast field of fresh, fluffy snow. The air is crisp and cold, and you’re suited up on skis, ready to propel yourself across the expanse of white for a day of cross-country skiing.
Now imagine that you’re in your own neighborhood, mimicking the motion of cross-country skiing by using poles to push yourself as you walk along a trail or sidewalk. That’s called Nordic walking. It was originally designed as a summer training routine for cross-country skiers. Now Nordic walking is catching on in the United States as an exercise regimen, especially among older adults.
Cardiologist Aaron Baggish is all for it. He just returned from a year of work and study in Switzerland, where he says Nordic walking is a common pastime among older adults. “You go to the train station on Saturdays and there are droves of people over 70 waiting to go up to the mountains to walk with Nordic poles,” says Dr. Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Nordic walking combines cardiovascular exercise with a vigorous muscle workout for your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. “When you walk without poles, you activate muscles below the waist. When you add Nordic poles, you activate all of the muscles of the upper body as well,” Dr. Baggish explains. “You’re engaging 80% to 90% of your muscles, as opposed to 50%, providing a substantial calorie-burning benefit.”
Lots of evidence confirms that Nordic walking burns more calories than regular walking-estimates range from an increase of 18% to 67% more.
Nordic walking is also associated with reductions in fat mass, “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and waist circumference, and increases in “good” HDL cholesterol, endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, walking distance, cardiovascular fitness, and quality of life.
Another benefit: “You’re much more stable when you use poles, because you have more ground contact points and you’re not relying on two feet alone,” Dr. Baggish says.
Plus, Nordic walking is fun. It can be a great social activity if you join one of the Nordic walking clubs popping up across the country. To find one near you, search the Internet or contact your local parks and recreation department.
About the poles
Unlike trekking or hiking poles, which have loose straps that go around your wrists, Nordic poles have a special glove-like system attached to each pole. “You slide your hand into it and use your palm rather than your fingers to transmit power to the poles and move yourself forward,” Dr. Baggish explains.
You’ll find poles in sporting goods stores and online. The poles are available in lightweight aluminum or carbon material; with pointed tips for trails, or rubber tips for sidewalks; and fixed or adjustable heights. Prices range from about $20 to $200 for a pair of poles. (Hint: A set of poles would make a nice holiday present.)
There are several Nordic walking techniques. One is “double poling.” It involves planting both poles symmetrically in front of you and pulling yourself forward as you walk a few steps. “You double pole and then walk three steps. Double pole; one, two, three. Double pole; one, two, three,” Dr. Baggish explains.
Another technique is “single poling,” which mimics what your feet are doing, with just one pole in front of you for each stride. Do this either with the same-side arm and leg together or with the opposite arm and leg together. “The pole and foot will always be striking and propelling at the same time. The difference is whether it’s on the same side or the opposite side,” says Dr. Baggish. He advises starting out with single poling, and gradually building up speed and vigorous arm swinging.
Dr. Baggish says most people are candidates for Nordic walking, even if they have balance problems. In fact, “if you have balance issues you’re the best candidate for this, because of the increased stability from the poles,” he says. “But you should still talk to your doctor first, especially if you have heart disease.”
Once you have the green light and a set of poles, you’ll need a walking route. You can walk on level surfaces or on varied terrain — anything from sidewalks to grassy fields or trails. Safe neighborhoods and parks are ideal.
Some tips for success:
Dress comfortably. Wear clothing that allows lots of arm swinging.
Stay hydrated. “Drink water in advance if you’ll be walking less than an hour. Otherwise, drink along your route,” Dr. Baggish suggests.
Do a 10-minute warm-up and a 10-minute cool-down. Nordic walking is fun, but it’s definitely a workout.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph. 2:22-24
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Collation 3:2-5
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
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