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Nordic Walking

Since the 1960s, when the protective effect of perseverance physical exercise on health condition was definitively proved, these types of activities have been repeatedly analysed. The benefit of running is its high expenditure of energy in a short time, and the drawback is a higher risk of cardiovascular system damage as well as injury. Another disadvantage is the fact that most people do not continue after several running sessions because of problems with their locomotive system or mental or physical tiredness. Another option is slow running (jogging) or fast walking (fitness walking). Fast walking is especially preferable for untrained, elderly or not perfectly healthy persons. Its disadvantage is a quite lower expenditure of energy. Higher energy consumption positively influences lower mortality, lower body weight, lower blood fat level, blood pressure, lower blood glucose level and heart function – however, all the effects are lower with walking than running where more muscle groups are actively joined. In the search for a physical activity which would preserve the advantages of walking while increasing overall energy consumption, and thus health protection, analyses have led to Nordic walking.

The history of this sports event is interesting. In 1988 when a cross-country skiing race was going to take place in Helsinki there was not enough snow. So the contestants hit the track without skis but with the poles and this event saw the birth of a new mass physical activity in Finland. In 1997 special poles for Nordic walking were developed, in 1998 over 200,000 Finns took part in Nordic walking activities.

Currently, there are various forms of Nordic walking (touring, weigh reduction, ischaemic heart disease prevention, racing forms, etc.) and millions of people all around the world are thus engaged.

Special Nordic walking poles are made of solid, flexible materials which absorb the pole strokes on the ground. They feature a special adjustable grip to meet individual needs. At the end of the pole is a point which can be covered with a protective rubber cap when walking on a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. The pole length should be 0.68 times a person’s height.

The basic technique of Nordic walking is not difficult to manage. Nevertheless, to achieve the maximum benefit to health it is necessary to get initial training from a qualified specialist (similar to basic ski instructions). This initial training is essential. It needs to be emphasized that walking downhill requires different skills than uphill, etc.

Physiological effect of Nordic walking: Unlike „common“ walking there is higher employment of shoulder deltoid, pectoral and upper back muscles. Employing these muscle groups has a positive effect on lower tension and pain in the area of the cervical spine. With the correct technique of Nordic walking a part of the load from the large lower-limb joints is transferred to the upper limbs. That is why Nordic walking can be successfully utilized in physiotherapy with numerous locomotive system disorders including traumatogenic states.

The risks of Nordic walking are the possible overload of the shoulder deltoid and cervical spine (or also pectoral and lumbar parts) and the overloading of knee joints. Again, the necessity of initial training provided by an experienced instructor needs to be emphasized.

Numerous recent scientific studies dealing with physiological analysis of Nordic walking have clearly proved increased expenditure of energy and a positive influence on oxygen consumption without requiring higher effort or physical load. With regular Nordic walking the quality of life of patients with closures of lower limb vessels and Parkinson’s disease has significantly improved.

Finally, we can conclude that properly practised Nordic walking significantly increases training effectiveness. It saves time while increasing energy consumption (i.e. it increases the quantity of dissolved fats and arterial sclerosis prevention).

The following article has been used to compile this chapter:

Stejskal P, Vystrčil M.: Nordic Walking and Its Utilization in Sports Medicine. Med.Sport.Boh Slov 2005;14(4):158-165

Author: Martin Rydlo, M.D., Ph.D.