by Mary Davies

agh_logoWant to firm up that little pot-belly? Tone your physique and improve your health? Nordic Pole Walking (NPW) allows you to do both while enjoying the outdoors.

NPW evolved from cross-country skiing in the 1930s, when Nordic biathletes developed the technique to maintain training levels during the off-season. Canadians are now adopting it for its health benefits.

Scientific and clinical studies show that NPW increases oxygen consumption by 20 per cent and caloric expenditure by up to 45 per cent—without increasing perceived exertion. In other words, you can increase your heart rate without feeling that it’s hard work.

NPW helps improve balance and posture, while decreasing impact on the hips, knees and feet. It increases the production of positive hormones, providing a sense of wellbeing and improved quality of life.

These effects make NPW ideal if you want to be more active, lose weight, or have chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive lung disease, depression, early Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, or are recovering from some surgeries.

Adjustable-height telescopic walking poles are available at Canadian Tire, Bushtukah, Trailhead and Mountain Equipment Co-op from $25 to $125 a pair.

The ideal pole length is your height minus 50 centimetres, or adjust the polegrip to hand height with your elbow at 90 degrees and the forearm parallel to the ground.

The pole shafts are carbon/composite material with ergonomic or cylindrical handles and spike tips for grass, trails, or gravel. These can be covered with rubber boot-tips for pavement.

When beginning any new physical activity, consult your doctor first, and start slowly with short walks. Begin walking and swing your arms, reaching forward in a long handshake position.

Leaning slightly ahead, push from the shoulders with straight elbows, using the poles to propel you forwards. Keep the poles angled backwards with the boot tips behind you—this is full Nordic walking.

In modified Nordic walking, the elbows are bent, the posture is more upright, and the pole tips are placed more forward.

Include warm-up and cool-down periods, followed by stretches. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your walks.

Walking with poles uses 90 per cent of all body muscles, toning your core, calves, neck, shoulder and triceps muscles. It is significantly more effective than regular walking, and can be enjoyed outdoors or indoors.

For more information, visit www.nordicpolewalking.com and www.nordixx.com.

 Mary Davies is a Registered Physiotherapist at Almonte General Hospital