The fitness benefits of Nordic walking

Nordic walking is a supercharged fitness routine that will give you a full-body workout. Learn more about the benefits of this low-impact exercise

The fitness benefits of Nordic walking

Source: Best Health magazine, Summer 2013; Images: Thinkstock


It keeps you fit and energized when you have an injury

As a child, Shannon Smith spent years immersed in the competitive world of figure skating, for which she trained six days a week. But by the time she reached high school, she suffered from chronic lower back pain and had injured her hip from repetitive falls. So she left behind her rigorous training schedule and focused on academics instead. For the next few years, she attended the occasional yoga class, but couldn’t participate in strenuous exercise.

‘Being active and staying fit remained important to me, and I really missed that aspect of my life,’ says the 24-year-old native of London, Ont. In 2012, her mother, Janet, a Nordic walking instructor, convinced her to try a class. Also known as urban poling, this walking workout uses lightweight poles similar to cross-country ski poles. It can be done outside year-round on any terrain.

It’s a great alternative to running

Like mother, like daughter, it seems. Janet had always enjoyed being active. The 55-year-old retail sales specialist in London grew up playing a variety of sports and studied kinesiology at Western University. She took up running 20 years ago to stay in shape, and until two years ago ran five to 10 kilometres, three to four times a week. Then she began experiencing pain in her joints during and after her running sessions. So she set out to find a low-impact activity that she could regularly participate in and that would give her a great workout. Her friend Cheryl Lalande, a personal trainer and owner of Evolution Fitness and Wellness Solutions in London, suggested that she try Nordic walking.

Janet found the technique easy to learn and could feel the involvement of her upper body instantly. Still, she wasn’t convinced that a walking activity could replace the high-impact running workouts she was used to. ‘I gave it a try and after a few weeks, I was hooked,’ she says. She was getting a full-body workout three times a week, and the changes in terrain made the activity challenging.

It improves your posture

At first, Janet felt conspicuous using the poles. ‘People would shout out, ‘Hey, you forgot your skis!’ or ‘Where’s the snow?”’ she says. ‘I think it was meant in fun. But I loved how I felt during my walk and afterwards: challenged, energized and strong.’ She enjoyed Nordic walking so much that she became a certified instructor and now teaches four classes per week.

Last spring, Shannon started attending her classes and now walks three days a week. ‘I was resistant at first,’ Shannon admits, ‘but once I put the poles in my hands and got the rhythm, there was no stopping me. I can’t think of a better way to start my day.’

Janet notes that her posture has improved considerably since taking up Nordic walking. She’s thrilled to have found an activity that keeps her fit and that she can enjoy with her daughter. ‘Plus, it’s fun!’ she says. ‘I can see myself enjoying Nordic walking for many years to come.’

It’s a great workout for pregnant women

When Andrea Scott, a public health nurse in Oakville, Ont., was pregnant with her first child, she decided to try Nordic walking. ‘It was perfect: a low-impact, full-body workout to help me reach my goal of being fit and active while I was pregnant,she says. She joined her in-laws, Jack and Pauline Scott, with about six others in a walking group called Dynamic Strides in nearby Mississauga, Ont. Every Saturday morning for 60 to 90 minutes, they chatted while walking on trails along Lake Ontario and through parks.

It’s a social workout

‘I’m a social exerciser,’ says Andrea, 33. ‘It was a lot of fun getting to know different people in the group.‘ She chatted with retirees about cruise lines and resorts, and compared pregnancy notes with another mother-to-be, Tina Mann. (The new moms email regularly, and continue to meet for coffee every few months.) She also loved sharing an activity and strengthening the bond with her mother-in-law, while also catching up on family news.

Fresh-air socializing drew Andrea to Nordic walking initially, but the physical benefits paid off, too. ‘Nordic walking defin­itely strengthened my back and helped me cope with pregnancy-related lower back pain,’ she says. ‘Valerie, our instructor, would make sure we had the proper posture when we walked.’ Using poles means you engage more muscles and therefore burn more calories, plus have greater stability and better walking form. Andrea says she also slept better, maintained her cardiovascular fitness levels and gained muscle tone.

Nowadays, Andrea does ‘mommy and me’ fitness classes with her 18-month-old daughter, Olivia, but she plans to start Nordic walking again soon. ‘I have to get my poles back from my sister-in-law first!’ she says with a laugh. ‘I think she was inspired to give it a try after she saw all the fun I was having.’

This article was originally titled "Walk this way" in the Summer 2013 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!