Get to know Nordic walking, the exercise to improve your daily life

Publisher’s note: Before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

If you’re looking for a cardio activity that gets your heart working and improves your daily life, you probably immediately think of running or interval training, also known as HIIT. However, new research suggests that to maximize your training, you should try Nordic walking.

Originating in Finland, this low-impact, full-body exercise can be performed at different intensity levels. It incorporates the use of specially designed poles that are worked in opposition to the legs, that is, the left arm and right foot work together, and the right arm works with the left foot. The way the poles are planted and pushed help propel you forward, and the system is especially useful when going up or down hills.

CHD patients who engaged in Nordic walking had a greater increase in their functional capacity, or ability to perform activities of daily living, compared with those who engaged in high-intensity interval training or moderate-to-vigorous continuous training , according to a recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

nordic walking

Patients with coronary heart disease who did Nordic walking for 12 weeks had a greater increase in ability to perform activities of daily living than those who did interval training, according to a study.

Few studies have examined the effects of Nordic walking on cardiac rehabilitation patients, but other forms of exercise, specifically HIIT workouts, have been extensively studied, said lead author Dr. Jennifer Reed, director of exercise physiology and cardiovascular health from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canada. No other study has directly compared the three exercise regimens mentioned.

“Our research, showing the superior benefits of Nordic walking on functional capacity, highlights an alternative exercise option that requires minimal cost and equipment to improve physical and mental health,” he said.

full body movement

Nordic walking exercises 80% to 90% of your muscles when done correctly, according to the American Nordic Walking Association, while walking and running only use 40%. Additional shoulder, chest, and arm muscles used are the deltoids, pectorals, upper abdominals, forearm flexors, subscapularis, triceps, and external obliques. In addition, the use of these additional muscles represents a 20% increase in calorie burn compared to a regular walk, according to a study published in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.

During Reed’s study, researchers put 130 patients through a 12-week training program in which they performed 60 minutes of Nordic walking on an indoor track; 60 minutes of continuous moderate to vigorous training (for example, cycling or rowing); or a 45-minute HIIT workout. At the end of the training program, and again after a 14-week observation period after the regimen, the participants performed two six-minute walk tests to measure functional capacity.

All exercise regimens helped relieve patients’ depression and improved their quality of life, but functional capacity was higher after Nordic walking, according to the researchers. Patients who practiced Nordic walking increased their functional capacity by 19%, compared to 13% of those who did HIIT exercises and 12% of those who did moderate to rigorous continuous training.

“The six-minute walk test for functional capacity is an evidence-based and typically reproducible test,” said Dr. Jonathan H. Whiteson, associate professor of rehabilitation and medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City. York who was not involved in the study.

“However, as this is a walking test to measure improvements from different exercise regimens, it is important to recognize that training is task-specific, so it is not so surprising that the walking intervention, rather than the two other exercise interventions that did not focus only on walking, produced the greatest increase.

A more objective measure of aerobic training is a cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET), or metabolic stress test, which can measure fitness levels through metabolic analysis, said Whiteson, who is also medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at NYU Langone Health. “Use of CPET would have improved the results of this study. That said, all modalities improved functional capacity, and that is the goal of a cardiac rehabilitation program, as it correlates well with reduced risk of future cardiac events.

The fact that Nordic walking is primarily a walking exercise and that other training programs include a variety of aerobic exercises may certainly be why it came out on top in the test, Reed acknowledged. The use of canes while walking may have improved speed and postural control, and increased stride length.

In any case, Whiteson issued a caveat: To achieve increased functional capacity, Nordic walking must be done vigorously, and it requires coordination and balance, he said. Therefore, it may not be a good option for everyone.

Based on this study, his team is ready to start a clinical trial that will explore the effects of combining different types of exercise in patients with cardiovascular disease, such as combining HIIT training with Nordic walking.

feel the effort

The positive results of the study have also sparked the team’s interest in further exploring the potential benefits of Nordic walking on other health measures, such as upper and lower body strength and indicators of cardiovascular health, such as glucose and the lipids in blood. The positive results could point to its use in people with other conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.

In the United States, only 20% to 30% of patients who are eligible for cardiac rehabilitation and can benefit from it are referred and participate in it, according to Whiteson. This lack of participants in active rehabilitation makes research like Reed’s important as it points to another exercise modality they can use, and a very practical one as it can be done outside of a gym. “It also helps remind healthcare providers and patients that cardiac rehabilitation is an essential part of their recovery regimen, their future health and well-being.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the study, according to Reed and Whiteson, is that everyone can benefit from exercise. “There is no magic pill for health, but exercise is medicine that targets multiple health conditions simultaneously,” Reed said. “When it comes to physical activity, I like to say, ‘A little is better than none, and more is better than some.'”

— Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness.

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