Your New Favourite Sport: Nordic Walking
06 November 2018
As the winter rolls in it’s very tempting to retreat indoors and hibernate, but this is just about the worst thing that you can do – not just for your spinal health, but for your overall health and wellbeing too. It’s especially important to get outside and stay active during the colder, darker months; it lifts your mood, keeps everything running, and helps keep off the extra winter layer your body so enthusiastically stores. Our friends at Bristol Nordic Walking have been striding out ahead of the rest of us with their energising, mood-boosting, gentle form of exercise.
If you’ve been to your local park recently you may have seen people striding out with what look like ski poles. No, they’re not lost on their way to the slopes – they are in fact Nordic walking. This fitness activity has been growing in popularity since it arrived in the UK in 2004, and for good reason. It is a powerful whole body exercise which activates your core stabilising muscles, energises your back and strengthens your heart and lungs.
What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking is based entirely on your natural walking pattern but uses two specially designed poles angled backwards to help build your upper body strength and accelerate you forwards.
The poles are a clever fitness tool which takes walking to the next level. They have a glove–type strap which clips in to a slender, ergonomic handle. You push through the strap which allows you to swing your arm more fully, giving you greater power and using your whole body. Nordic walking poles are very distinct from a trekking pole, which is generally heavier, with a chunkier grip and a loop strap.
What are the benefits?
Core strength. Nordic walking is like pilates in motion. Every time you push the pole into the ground you switch on your deep core stabilising muscles and strengthen them. These important muscles help with your balance. They also support your back.
Back health. A key part of the Nordic walking technique is the gentle rotation of your spine. This helps strengthen the muscles supporting your spine and boosts back health generally.
Immune System. One of the best times to Nordic walk is during the winter. You might be tempted to snuggle up and stay indoors but time outside away from a centrally heated environment will invigorate both your body and your mind and you will probably also have fewer colds.
Improved posture. How to walk with good posture is the foundation of the Nordic walking technique. You will learn how to lengthen your spine; maintain the correct head position; lift your chest; distribute your weight evenly; and use your feet properly. Plus you can apply these skills to your regular walking.
Heart health. Nordic walking is a full body exercise and uses almost all the body’s skeletal muscles. It’s a bit like using the cross-trainer in the gym except that you’re outside and it’s much more sociable. By involving the upper body muscles your heart and lungs have to work harder even on the flat. The benefits of exercise for your heart and lungs are well documented. Amongst other things it helps lower blood pressure, reduces your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and keeps your arteries clear.
Strong bones. Public Health England recently specifically recommended Nordic walking as a muscle and bone strengthening and balancing activity. Its weightbearing nature and the added resistance provided by the poles helps improve bone health and strength.
Mental health. Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety. An exercise like Nordic walking which is outside in green surroundings is even more beneficial for mental health and wellbeing.
Fun! There are many things in life that you have to do because you are told to or ought to. Exercise should not be one of them. Nordic walking is fun. You’re in the fresh air; it’s sociable; you get to know your local area better and can visit new places; it’s non-competitive and you can be good at it even (especially) if you’re not the ‘sporty’ type.
Other than the poles themselves, no specialist kit is required to Nordic walk. However it’s worth investing in some well-fitting walking shoes or boots with a flexible sole. A good, breathable waterproof jacket is also valuable, especially in the West Country in the winter.
How can I get started?
You need to learn the correct technique from a qualified Nordic walking instructor. Bristol and Bath is one of the biggest Nordic walking centres in the UK so it is easy to find an instructor and class to suit you. A good starting point is to speak to our team at Bristol Nordic Walking. We run over 30 fitness classes a week in Bristol and Bath plus scenic walks, weekends away and trips abroad.