Nordic Walking to Prevent Dementia

Mary Tweed
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Recently, BBC2’s programme, Trust Me I’m A Doctor, asked viewers to tell them what was their number one health concern. The overwhelming answer was that 49% of respondents wanted to know how they could reduce the risk of dementia in old age. The medics behind the programme duly arranged an experiment to test various theories.

Having assembled a group of volunteers, tests were carried out to gauge their base line memory ability. Then they arranged them into three groups. The first group were to spend three hours a week tackling brain training puzzles, such as crosswords and sudoku. The second group were to walk briskly for three hours a week; and the final group were to draw a naked man for three hours every week. All the participants were given an activity monitor to wear on their wrists.

After eight weeks the volunteers were reassessed and the results were analysed. All three groups showed an improvement in their memory, showing that all of these techniques were beneficial. However, those who had undertaken the brisk walking revealed a marked improvement compared to those who had worked on the brain training puzzles. However, the most significant improvement was seen in the group that had attended the life drawing classes.

Clinical Psychologist Daniel Collerton, one of the experts from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust and Newcastle University, explained that this improvement in memory was due to learning a new skill. "Learning something new, engages the brain in ways that seem to be key. Your brain changes in response, no matter how many years you have behind you.” The art class attendees had not only been exercising their intellect, but also using their muscles in new physical ways, which was also beneficial for their brain and thus memory. Another unintended benefit was that they had all spent the three hours standing, which is known to burn more calories and keep your heart in shape.

The programme concluded that the best way to prevent dementia was to combine exercise with learning a new skill. They suggested ballroom dancing to their viewers. “No!” I wanted to shout at the screen. “Nordic Walking.”

Nordic Walking is the ideal combination of learning a new skill and exercising, whilst enjoying the beauty (and benefits) of being outdoors. Mastering the Ten Step British Nordic Walking Technique is not as easy as it looks and takes time to perfect. Many clients express surprise at how difficult they find walking with poles; however, all gain great personal satisfaction as their ability improves and they start making the most of their new prowess.

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