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Nordic walking: The fun and fitness benefits

Written by Fiona January 18 2011

Nordic Walking at Cardrona, near Peebles

Nordic walking is one of the fastest growing fitness activities in Britain – and it’s easy to see the appeal. Nordic walking is basically a high energy style of walking that utilises special poles to help to propel the walker at a faster speed than normal. By using poles the walkers also engage more muscles, especially in the upper body, and burn a lot more calories. The poles help to lessen the impact on joints, such as ankles, knees and hips, which makes Nordic walking suitable for a wide range of people, fitness abilities and ages.

Another big advantage of Nordic walking is that it usually takes place amid fantastic scenery, especially if you’re trying the activity in Scotland.

The benefits of Nordic walking:

  • Burns up to 400 calories per hour compared to 280 calories per hour for normal walking
  • Helps to support the hip, knee and ankle joints
  • Generates an increase in energy consumption by up to 46% when compared to normal walking.

I enjoyed a beginner’s Nordic walking course a few years ago with Perthshire-based Breathing Space Outdoors. I loved the challenge of the all-over-body workout, the stunning views in forests and hills near Comrie and the post-exercise feeling of nicely aching muscles, from legs to shoulders.

Then, last weekend, my parents, aka Granny and Gramps Outdoors, announced that they were embarking on a Nordic walking course with an outdoors provider based in Peebles. G & G Outdoors are in their mid-sixties and while Granny Outdoors has remained relatively fit by doing the odd walk and regular yoga, Gramps Outdoors is not known for his outdoor expeditions (unless in a car!). So the idea of them both joining a Nordic walking course was a little surprising.

But they loved it, especially Gramps Outdoors. The 10-week Nordic walking course is with instructor Miriam of  The Nordic Walking Company. “A brilliant teacher,” Granny Outdoors told me. The course will build up the walking distances each  week until they can complete a 13-mile hilly outing along the fabulous John Buchan Way in the Tweed Valley.

Saturday’s first walk was a flat three-miles along the River Tweed. Granny outdoors confessed that it took her some time to get the hang of using the poles. “I just couldn’t get to grips with co-ordinating my arms, legs and the poles,” she admitted. “But  once I relaxed a bit, chatted to some people in the group and forgot about trying too hard I found my arms naturally co-ordinated. There is definitely a required technique and it is an upper body challenge but most people will quickly pick it up.”

Gramps Outdoors found the technique came to him quite naturally. “I liked the rhythm of it,” he said. “I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I liked the instruction, chatting to some of the people in the group and the chance to try something new and different. I think I will need to practise in between the sessions and I am a bit worried about how I’ll cope with the 13-mile final walk but I am sure we will build up slowly and there are still nine weeks to go.”

Both G& G Outdoors ached a little the following day. “I definitely know I’ve had a work out,” said Gramps Outdoors.

Miriam, a Nordic Walking UK instructor, welcomes people of all shapes, sizes, speeds and coordination abilities. She said: “I have all kinds of people on my courses and all ages. The other morning was a good example.  I had one lady who had had problems with her hip, and was keen to exercise but in relatively short bursts and is very nervous about falling and hurting herself further.  She loved the fact that walking with poles gave her extra stability – reducing the impact on her joints, but also giving her a way of helping her balance.

“Another lady was the complete opposite. She is very fit, but wants to challenge herself further.  She was excited by being able to make a walk even more beneficial by working her upper body as well as her legs.

“Nordic Walking uses 90% of your muscles and burns up to 46% more calories than normal walking, making it great for fitness, toning and weight loss.”

For more information about Nordic walking, and details of instructors in your area, see Nordic Walking UK.

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