Nordic walking: How this simple low-impact workout can boost your posture and heart health
It's a low-impact, full-body workout.
Nordic walking is a type of low-impact exercise that uses specialised poles and striding techniques to engage all the body’s major muscle groups. It originated in Finland in the 1930s, as a way for cross-country skiers to train during the summer months. Since then, it’s gained popularity around the world as a fun way for people of any age to get moving and out into nature.
Unlike hiking poles, which are typically held in front of the body to help with balance and stability, Nordic walking poles should only ever be in contact with the ground behind you. With each step forward, the opposing arm – held straight at the elbow – swings out in front you, dragging the pole gently along the ground. As you take your next step, you plant this pole into the ground and push down and back into it to help propel yourself forward.
The Nordic technique turns walking into a full-body workout, activating the muscles of the shoulders, back and core as well as the arms and legs. In fact, Nordic walking engages up to 90 per cent of the body’s muscle mass! That means it’s great for improving posture and cardiovascular health, as well as burning calories. Studies show that it can burn anywhere between 18 and 67 per cent more calories than standard walking, or even light jogging.
At the same time, Nordic walking is gentle on the joints. The poles reduce the load on the lower body, and their design – lightweight and attached to the wrist with straps – allows the walker to relax their grip for part of each stride.
Like any exercise, Nordic walking can help with stress management, and it offers the additional mental health benefits of being performed outdoors, often in social groups. Finally, almost anyone can do it; all you need is some comfortable, supportive shoes and a set of poles!
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Ceri Perkins is a New York City-based writer and editor who covers the environment, science, nature and human behaviour. As a freelancer, she has lived around the world, from Madrid to the Scottish Highlands. Before going freelance, Ceri was based in Geneva, Switzerland, as a staff writer/editor at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Later, she was News Editor at NYC-based magazine Spectrum, where she edited news and opinion stories about the neuroscience and genetic underpinnings of autism. In her spare time, Ceri is typically either outdoors in nature or curled up inside with a stack of books and a pile of things to make or fix. She holds a Bachelor’s in Atmospheric Science, a Master's in Science Communication, and you can read her work in TED Ideas, BBC Earth, The Guardian, Physics World, New Scientist, and more.