Better Late Than Never

Mary Tweed
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Oh dear! It’s been a very busy week, hence I am five days late publishing my blog. Therefore I am holding my hand up to my tardiness and entitling this week’s offering ‘Better Late Than Never.” However, instead of boring you with the reasons for the delay, I thought I would explore the frequently asked question “what age is too old to take up Nordic Walking?” to which my answer is always…… better late than never.

Nordic Walking is essentially a motor skill. This is one than works our brain as well as our body and is sometimes referred to as neuromuscular fitness. Elements of motor skills include balance, coordination, reaction time and speed. These are all aspects of fitness that naturally decline with age from about the age of fifty. However, much of that decline can be avoided by remaining active. In other words, use it or lose it. For those people who haven’t been “using it” much and have suddenly woken up to the fact that they are about to lose it, the good news is that motor skills can be trained at ANY age and, with practice, you will notice an improvement. This is important as it will make daily life much easier; an improvement in your balance will help prevent falls; an increase in speed will improve your fitness and help decrease your blood pressure and reduce the risk of high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, some cancers and other factors which Katharine describes in her blog: Why Nordic Walking Keeps Us Young. Indeed British Nordic Walking recommends Nordic Walking to anyone from 8 to 80+.

As with learning any new skill, Nordic Walking may seem difficult and complicated to begin with. This applies to new Nordic Walkers of any age, so no excuses, please! Do not be deterred. Scientists have discovered that there are three stages to learning any motor skill which can be broken down into the following phases:

Cognitive Phase

This is the initial stage when you are learning a new skill. You will feel less coordinated as walking with poles is an unfamiliar movement pattern. Due to high levels of concentration you may well tire more easily and this leads you to make more mistakes. It can feel extremely frustrating, but it may be consoling to know that you are simply fitting into a well documented learning stage.

Motor Phase

Sometimes called the practice stage, it lasts a lot longer than the cognitive phase. You will begin to recognise when you have made a mistake, although on the positive side, you will make fewer errors. You will be able to adjust your movement to improve your technique and avoid the same mistakes in the future. You will also begin to link movement patterns together when you concentrate. In Nordic Walking terms, this is when you are consolidating all 10 British Nordic Walking Technique Steps and are desperately trying to remember everything your instructor has taught you.

Automatic Phase

This is Nordic Walking nirvana, when you find yourself in a comfortable rhythm without conscious effort. You will feel less anxious about your performance and will hopefully find that you are faster and more accurate than a few weeks before. Even complicated movements begin to feel automatic, leaving you to enjoy chatting to other Nordic Walking participants and enjoying the Suffolk views.

I think that it is helpful for us all to understand this three stage process of learning a new skill, as all too often people are put off at the cognitive phase, believing that it is their age that is preventing them from learning. Recognising that we are still at the first stage can provide the impetus needed to keep moving forward towards the subsequent two stages. Keeping fit is such a beneficial lifestyle choice. So, keep practicing. Practice may not make you perfect, but it will definitely help you improve.

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