December 6, 2019
We don’t usually imagine Vikings frolicking in the snow. Mostly, they are remembered for trading and raiding across Europe. However, while skiing originated in China, it was the Vikings who popularized the sport—especially cross-country skiing—according to the History Channel. In fact, the word, “ski,” comes from the Old Norse word “skio.”
You may see them in your own neighborhood trails or sidewalks: exercisers mimicking the motion of cross-country skiing by using poles to push themselves. What they are doing is called Nordic walking. It was originally designed as a summer training routine for cross-country skiers. Now, it’s catching on as an exercise regimen, especially among older adults.
Cardiologist Aaron Baggish—who is the director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center—told the newsletter that he is all for it. He just returned from a year of work and study in Switzerland, where he says Nordic walking is a common pastime among older adults. “You go to the train station on Saturdays and there are droves of people over 70 waiting to go up to the mountains to walk with Nordic poles,” says Dr. Baggish.
Nordic walking combines cardiovascular exercise with a vigorous muscle workout for your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. “When you walk without poles, you activate muscles below the waist. When you add Nordic poles, you activate all of the muscles of the upper body as well,” Dr. Baggish explains. “You’re engaging 80% to 90% of your muscles, as opposed to 50%, providing a substantial calorie-burning benefit.”
Nordic walking also is associated with reductions in fat mass, “bad” LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and waist circumference, and increases in “good” HDL cholesterol, endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, walking distance, cardiovascular fitness, and quality of life.
Another benefit: “You’re much more stable when you use poles, because you have more ground contact points and you’re not relying on two feet alone,” Dr. Baggish says.
Plus, Nordic walking is fun. It can be a great social activity if you join one of the Nordic walking clubs popping up across the country.
Dr. Baggish says most people are candidates for Nordic walking, even if they have balance problems. In fact, “if you have balance issues you’re the best candidate for this, because of the increased stability from the poles,” he says. “But you should still talk to your doctor first, especially if you have heart disease.”
Once you have the green light and a set of poles, you’ll need a walking route. You can walk on level surfaces or on varied terrain—anything from sidewalks to grassy fields or trails.
Research contact: @HarvardHealth