Nordic walking benefits: activity improves your heart health, balance and posture, and gives you stronger, more toned muscles
- Walking with specially designed poles has been shown to deliver some key health benefits; a Singaporean couple describe their love of the sport
- Using poles to walk tones muscles and reduces the strain on joints, making it an ideal workout for people with musculoskeletal issues, physiotherapist says
Nordic walking is a weekend tradition for Calvin Kee and Mary Yap. The couple, who live in Singapore, picked up the activity in 2019 and have been hooked ever since.
Every weekend and public holiday, they can be seen at East Coast Park, Pasir Ris Park, the Southern Ridges, the Rail Corridor and other well-known parks and trails in Singapore, walking briskly with their Nordic walking poles.
A typical Nordic walking session for them lasts between two and three hours. Most of the time they go together, and on public holidays they usually walk with friends. Over the past three years, both Kee and Yap have noticed how Nordic walking benefits their physical and mental health.
“I also experienced musculoskeletal strain and pain whenever I walked too much.
“I used to think that the muscles in my leg were difficult to strengthen, but after Nordic walking for some time, I noticed that they felt stronger,” he adds.
Yap, a 55-year-old customer service assistant manager, credits Nordic walking for many improvements in her health and physique.
Nordic walking originated in Finland as a form of training for cross-country skiers during the off season, and has become popular around the world.
Nordic walking may be especially beneficial if you have balance problems, since the poles increase your base of support, says Sophie Raine, a physiotherapist at Sports Performance Physiotherapy in Hong Kong.
It’s also perfect for those who need a workout that’s harder than a brisk walk, but don’t want to run. Getting the right heel-toe roll and gluteal engagement maximises the benefits, Raine adds.
The study, published online in June in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, included participants with coronary heart disease who were enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation; it was designed to compare the sustained effects of cardiovascular rehab exercises in these patients.
Participants, whose average age was 60, did a six-minute walk test to measure their functional capacity, or ability to perform physical tasks – an important predictor of future cardiovascular events.
If walking with poles isn’t something you think you can get used to, you can still benefit significantly from regular walking.
According to Raine, walking 8km (5 miles) to 10km a week has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of developing arthritis.
Kee and Yap see themselves continuing Nordic walking, even as they get older.
“It helps improve my stamina, which means that I can walk for longer without fear of injury or pain,” says Yap.
“It’s also good for my posture and allows me to de-stress. I think of it as a natural extension of brisk walking, which I also do about once or twice a week.”
Kee appreciates that the activity is easy on his body, which is important to him as someone with polio. “Nordic walking is safe because it doesn’t strain my muscles or joints,” he says.
“The poles help me move faster for longer and provide extra support. If I’m after a more challenging workout, they allow me to push myself harder but without the pain. I look forward to continuing Nordic walking with Mary, even when we’re in the later stages of life.”