Why Nordic walking keeps us young

Katharine Green
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This sign depicting the elderly fills me with great sadness. Old age does not have to be a sentence to having poor posture. Obviously there are a number of conditions that mean stooping is unavoidable, but for many, it does not have to be. It’s about educating and understanding one's body. It’s never to late to start changing our habits.

The NHS has set out exercise guidelines for older adults aged 65 and over, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility. They recommend the following;

• At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week. It could be a mix of more vigorous aerobic exercise like running, mixed with a game of singles tennis.

• And strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

This is why Nordic walking can be so beneficial for the older generation, as it encompasses all of the above. It is an excellent way for people to improve and maintain their levels of fitness, strength and flexibility. One of the great things about Nordic walking is virtually anybody can do it, whatever their age or level of fitness. There are several elements of fitness that are essential for maintaining good levels of mobility and independence as we get older.

Flexibility

One vital element is flexibility, it is not simply a case of being able to touch your toes. Increased flexibility makes every day living easier by improving the range of movement of the joints which means you can reach, bend and generally function better. In short it will impact on every day things like reaching to get things from cupboards, getting in and out of cars and even putting your coat on!

Brain health

Learning a new skill is proven to help stave off memory related diseases. Mastering the British Nordic walking 10 step technique is a great way to keep the brain active, and once you’ve learnt it, coordinating your body and remembering all the different techniques is a fantastic brain exercise. (see blog)

Spine health

Nordic walking increases the thoracic mobility of the spine. It wakes up the back muscles and lengthens out the spine. Reversing the detrimental effects of endless sitting.

Balance

The elderly are at a greater risk of falling and Nordic walking helps improve your balance (walking with ‘four legs’ instead of two) and confidence. In our classes we add drills that involve balance work to help keep the motor skills in top condition.

Fall prevention

In our classes we teach people to have a flexible rolling of the foot, actively landing on the heel and firmly pushing off from the toes. As we get older we are more likely to shuffle when walking, whether it is due to reduced muscle strength, flexibility or balance, (and hence more likely to trip over). It is very important to get into the habit of picking up our feet whenever we are walking.

Posture

Crucial for our wellbeing. Good posture means keeping your body in alignment. By the correct use of walking with poles, a better posture in walking can be reached and incorrect compensation of other muscle groups can be prevented. Bad posture causes numerous problems, putting strain on your neck, leading to tension in the neck, shoulders and back. One of my walkers is determined not to get a ‘widows hump’. The action of planting the poles behind you encourages the shoulders back and the chest open, a perfect way to stimulate good posture.

Circulation

Nordic walking uses nearly 90% of the skeletal muscles, boosting the circulation and metabolism in the whole body - from swinging the arms, to the action of releasing the hand as the arm extends behind you, to the tips of your toes when you push off. (see blog)

Heart health

As we get older we are more at risk of having heart related illnesses. Nordic walking involves the upper body more than ordinary walking and therefore increases the demand on the cardio-vascular system, improving fitness and endurance.

Equally important remember Nordic walking is social and fun – a proven mood enhancer, what more could one ask for…?

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