Nordic walking research

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Nordic walking research

Question: Here in Europe I’ve noticed many people Nordic Walking, especially in the countryside. Even some of my friends have joined clubs that do this exercise together as a group. I don’t know if it’s popular in the United States. Can you tell me if this practice is markedly superior to ordinary walking or other forms of aerobic activity? I prefer taking hikes or walks in nature. Though I would consider investing in Nordic poles and possibly joining a club if the benefits make it worthwhile.

Answer: For those unfamiliar with Nordic Walking (NW), it essentially combines elements of cross-country skiing and walking. Nordic walkers affix poles to their wrists and use them to push off against the ground as they otherwise walk normally. This action involves more of an upper body workout than taking a typical stroll. This provides a more comprehensive workout. The question that hasn’t been fully resolved yet is whether or not NW is worth the added effort and expense as compared to other types of exercise. Thus far, here’s what has been reported in the medical literature:

Nordic Walking vs. Pilates: A first of its kind study, appearing in the March 2015 issue of Menopause examined the relative effects of NW and Pilates in a group of overweight, postmenopausal women. After ten weeks, the women in the NW group lost significantly more weight (6.4% vs 1.7%) and demonstrated greater reductions in blood sugar, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Additionally, the NW volunteers exhibited a statistically greater increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol in comparison to the Pilates participants (9.6% vs. 3.1%).

Nordic Walking vs Home Exercise and Water Aerobics: The reason I’m combining these two forms of exercises is because they’ve been compared to NW in relation to the promotion of blood flow. The water aerobic intervention determined that only NW “improved venous blood flow in the lower extremities and normalized body composition in the direction of reducing chronic venous disorder risk factors”. The home exercise experiment discovered that NW alone improved maximum walking distance in patients with intermittent claudication, a condition characterized by compromised blood flow to the legs that is often accompanied by burning, cramping and pain.

Nordic Walking vs. Resistance Training: Two studies from 2013 came to similar conclusions when comparing Nordic Walking to resistance training (RT). In both interventions, NW outperformed RT in relation to risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Some of the key findings indicate that NW preferentially reduced body fat, fatty liver index, LDL and total cholesterol in this population who is at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Nordic Walking vs Conventional Walking: In my opinion, this is the most direct and interesting comparison. In most controlled trials, NW has been shown to be a “cut above” the variety of walking we do in daily life and even on a treadmill. A current examination of the research reveals that NW offers certain distinct advantages by: a) enhancing oxygen uptake (VO2) without increasing the rate of perceived exertion in those with compromised respiratory function such as COPD and overweight patients;b) improving cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, upper-body strength, total cholesterol and walking speed in seniors.

My interpretation of the above studies is that Nordic Walking does confer some benefits over the sort of walking that most people do. Having said that, I’m not certain that it would contrast much from my usual style of walking. Most of my structured walking is done a treadmill. I warm up for five minutes, then spend the next 50 minutes or so using a modified interval pattern that fluctuates elevation and speed. I close with a five minute cool down. But, the main thing that distinguishes my walking style is that I pump my arms back and forth during the entire session. Sometimes I even throw shadow punches and stretch my upper body during the warm up and cool down periods. Doing so turns a predominately lower body workout into a full body session. I can’t say that it’s more effective than Nordic Walking, but it doesn’t require poles and I’m confident that I get a much more efficient, well rounded workout than if my arms took the hour off.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Effects of Nordic Walking & Pilates Exercise Programs on Blood Glucose (link)

Study 2 – Effect of Nordic Walking & Water Aerobics Training on Body Composition (link)

Study 3 – Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing Nordic Pole Walking and (link)

Study 4 – Nordic Walking Decreased Circulating Chemerin & Leptin Concentrations ( link)

Study 5 – 12 Weeks’ Aerobic and Resistance Training Without Dietary Intervention ( link)

Study 6 – Nordic Walking Enhances Oxygen Uptake Without Increasing the Rate of (link)

Study 7 – Efficacy of Nordic Walking in Obesity Management (link)

Study 8 – Effects of Nordic Walking Compared to Conventional Walking and Band- (link)

Study 9 – Nordic Walking for Geriatric Rehabilitation: A Randomized Pilot Trial ( link)

Study 10 – Effects of Nordic Walking on Body Composition, Muscle Strength (link)

Nordic Walking Improves Exercise Capacity in COPD Patients

Source: Respir Res. 2010 Aug 22;11:112. (link)


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