If you walk for exercise, you may be ready for an upgrade-something a little more vigorous and varied. And though it may sound absurd, walking with poles is even better exercise than just plain walking, according to those who practice “Nordic walking.”
A growing number of scientific studies have underlined the benefits as well. Think of Nordic walking as cross-country skiing (one of the best forms of aerobic exercise) without the snow, skis, and long underwear.
The poles used for Nordic walking are made of lightweight aluminum, titanium, and other metals-they look like ski poles. Some have angled rubber-covered tips called paws. They have cork or rubber hand grips, and some have mesh straps with a quick-release mechanism in case you want to free your hands.
Their length can be adjusted, depending on your height and the terrain. Any sporting-goods store that carries hiking equipment should have them, and they range in cost from $70 to $200 per pair. It’s not hard to learn pole walking-you can teach yourself.
It’s a basic marching rhythm: your right foot swings forward and you plant the pole with the left arm; then the left foot and the right arm. People usually feel a bit odd at first, but it’s very safe, recommended especially for those with balance problems.
What’s the point?
- Walking with poles, according to researchers at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, typically burns about 40% more calories than walking without poles. Thus, a 155-pound person who walks with poles for 30 minutes five days a week would burn 10,600 extra calories annually, compared with just walking. That’s enough to burn off an extra three pounds.
- Walking with poles raises heart rate more than regular walking, and yet volunteers in studies perceive the workout as less strenuous than regular walking.
- The poles provide upper-body exercise, which strengthens back and shoulder muscles, as well as the torso and arms, and helps build upper-body bone density.
- Poles are definitely a boon if you are hiking or backpacking, especially on steep or uneven terrain.
- The poles allow you to walk faster, but put less stress on the knees and reduce impact on the leg. Thus Nordic walking is often recommended in injury rehabilitation, for those with muscle pain from arterial disease, and for older walkers in general.
In addition to the poles, you’ll need good walking shoes, of course. Nordic walking is already a popular exercise in Finland and is catching on gradually in this country. Some health clubs offer Nordic walking classes. Most of the poles come with a basic instruction booklet.
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