In this post, you will learn about nordic walking for seniors. Read on to find out why Nordic walking might be the best exercise for seniors!
Never heard of Nordic walking? That’s alright, many have not. If you have never heard of Nordic walking, it’s a funny-looking sport that looks like skiers forgot their skis and just stuck with the poles.
It’s no wonder Nordic walking was invented by the Nordic people where skiing is very common. They noticed how much more effective exercise skiing was for the whole body compared to walking or running.
It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to realize skiing is so much more effective because you use your whole body to move around while skiing. In contrast, you only use your leg muscles while walking, jogging, or running.
So someone, somewhere (maybe in Norway, but I’d like to think in Finland ’cause that’s where I’m from) decided to try walking around with ski poles. And found it’s not only an effective exercise but also a more effective way to move in rough terrain.
Since then Nordic walking has been extensively studied for its incredible potential as a form of exercise to improve physical endurance. Nordic walking is also commonly used by cross-country skiers to train during the summer months.
What is Nordic Walking
Nordic walking, also known as pole walking or Nordic pole walking is a form of exercise or sport where you use poles that resemble ski poles to make walking, jogging or running more effective.
Nordic walking requires poles that are the right size for you and a typical outside exercise outfit like high-quality running shoes and clothes appropriate to the weather.
The poles that you use in Nordic walking are typically made from a composite like glass or carbon fiber. The idea of the poles is to provide additional power to your stride from your upper body.
You see, normally when you walk you barely use your arms, chest, and the large muscles of the upper back. Sure, they are used to maintaining balance but that’s about it.
When you use poles in your hands to provide additional power to each step, you are actually activating all the large muscles of the upper body.
The main movers are your large back muscles and the triceps of your arms. But your biceps, chest and core muscles are involved in the movement as well.
Poles Make Walking Much More Effective
When you do Nordic walking for an extended time, the metabolic effect on improving endurance is up to 20 percent greater than from simply walking. This is how much the activation of the upper body musculature matters to the overall health effects.
Nordic walking is typically done in the forest or in a park. Because traditionally exercising in the nature has been a big part of skiing.
Typically, forest and park trails offer a bit rougher and softer terrain which is optimal for pole walking as the poles typically have pointed heads that can be bit rough on tarmac or concrete.
There are rubber stud poles that can be used in an urban environment but we encourage you to go for a walk in the nature. Nordic walking is also great for long hikes as well because using your whole body improves endurance and the poles help to support your upper body if you are carrying a heavy back bag.
Benefits Of Nordic Walking For Seniors
The benefits of Nordic walking over regular walking have been shown in many studies.
One of the key benefits of pole walking is that it takes some of the strain of from the joints of the legs. This means it’s a great option for overweight people or people with knee issues for example.
Nordic walking has been shown to improve both bone density and muscular strength. The signs of sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass.
This means that Nordic walking is also likely beneficial for preventing and treating osteoporosis. Especially when combined with weight training.
Better Muscle Activation
The overall muscle activation in Nordic walking is much greater than in regular walking. Nordic walking requires you to use your arms to assist your gate. This also requires you to activate your core musculature more. So you are actually activating most of the muscles in your body as you are using your legs for walking as well.
Because you use a larger proportion of your muscle mass, you can move much more effectively than just by using your legs. The added power from your arms will allow you to maintain a faster pace without even noticing it.
This also means that Nordic walking can offer most of the benefits of strength training for seniors. But it’s good to know that actual strength training is always superior in that regard. So it’s wise to combine both.
The combination of using more muscle mass and going at a faster pace will add up and lead to significant improvements in your aerobic fitness and endurance.
The poles also offer great stability in rough or slippery terrain because you will constantly have at least two points of balance instead of one (each foot).
This allows seniors with balance and stability issues to move more effectively and freely. In rough terrain like trail walking, you can use the poles for added stability when going over obstacles.
So poles can be used as a fall prevention tool for the elderly.
Great For Circulation
Because Nordic walking uses your whole body, it’s great for circulation and heart health. It has been found to be beneficial for neck and shoulder pain, something many people who sit a lot suffer from.
This is because the activation of the muscles and the improved circulation reduce tension in the muscles of the upper body and neck.
Cardio in general is great for circulation as I mention in the articles Cardiovascular Exercises For The Elderly [Easy Tips] and Low Impact Cardio For Seniors.
Disadvantages Of Nordic Walking For Seniors
The only two disadvantages Nordic walking has compared to normal walking is that you need to invest in the poles and you have to learn how to use them properly.
Nordic walking might sound simple but it’s actually quite technical. You have to learn the correct pace and timing to use the poles effectively to assist your stride and activate your upper body muscles.
If you don’t spend a little bit of time learning the technique you will likely just end up walking around with ski poles hanging from your arms.
Nordic walking can seem a bit funny to the untrained eye even when done correctly. You can be sure someone is going to question your sanity if you walk around the woods or the park daily just carrying around a pair of ski poles.
Considering the effectiveness and benefits of Nordic walking the disadvantages are minuscule. Just get a pair of high-quality sticks, spend a few hours learning to use them properly, and reap the benefits of improved exercise.
How To Use The Poles Correctly
Nordic walking sticks are held on to with a hand strap. This makes it much easier to grip the stick for extended periods. And it makes power transmission easier.
You tighten the strap around your wrist and grip the handle of the pole in a relaxed manner. There is no need to grip it with force as the strap will take care of the power transmission and keeping the pole secured to your hand.
This tutorial by Rick Deutsch shows the technique of holding and using Nordic walking sticks perfectly (YouTube embed, content not owned or created by ElderStrength.com):
Nordic Walking Mistakes
The greatest mistake people make with Nordic walking is not learning the proper technique and using the wrong-sized poles. Both of these mistakes can make Nordic walking feel uncomfortable or simply make it ineffective.
When everything is in order, you will feel like you are flying on each step because of the added power of your upper body. If your technique is not in check you will be essentially using the poles as crutches. Which can make your pole walking workout less effective than simply walking.
The most important tips for maintaining a good Nordic walking technique are maintaining a good posture, keeping your hands and arms relaxed, walking naturally, and pushing with the poles very slightly once the pole is thrust behind you.
This might seem counterintuitive at first. As you might imagine that really pushing with the sticks would provide more power. But that really isn’t the case here. It’s all about finding the correct rhythm for pushing with the poles that feels both natural and powerful.
This is also why it’s imperative the poles are the correct size for you. Too long or too short poles will make it impossible to find the correct technique and rhythm.
How To Get Started With Nordic Walking
So you want to try out Nordic walking but don’t really know how to get started? The first thing of course is to get a pair of proper Nordic walking poles.
There are many kinds of Nordic walking poles on the market. The most important things to look for in a pole are pole length, hand strap and spike material.
Your height, proportions of arms and legs, and your experience with Nordic walking all affect which pole is the perfect one for you.
The straps are actually one of the most important pieces of the poles as they affect both comfortably of use and power production. The straps need to be tight enough to support your hand but comfortable enough not to cause any abrasions or limit circulation. A good strap is adjustable, detachable for cleaning and manufactured from a durable material.
At the point of the walking pole is a spike. This can be made out of metal, hard plastic or rubber. A well-designed spike hits the ground in a correct angle that prevents slipping and provides traction. Metal spikes are good for trail walking on soft and icy ground. For tarmac, you will need a softer rubber spike that absorbs shock and provides better traction.
For choosing the correct length pole there are two common rules but you have to remember there are individual differences in limb proportions and preference so you might need to try around a bit.
You can find the correct length of pole by multiplying your height in centimeters by 0.68. This will provide the correct length of pole in centimeters. Another good rule of thumb is that when you are standing with the poles at rest, your elbow should form a 90 degree angle.
My recommendation for Nordic walking poles that are available in most countries are the SWIX walking poles (affiliate link, I will earn a small commission if you buy through it).
They are made by a Norwegian company that has decades of product development put into their walking poles. Their quality and functionality are top-notch and you can’t quite frankly find better poles to start your new hobby with.
You can learn more about Nordic walking poles and trekking sticks in the article Best Hiking Sticks for Seniors [Trekking Pole Guide].
Nordic Walking Program
If you feel unsure about getting started with Nordic walking on your own, there are some great supervised programs and classes you can attend to.
My recommendation for a Nordic pole walking class is the Nordic Body pole walking class. They are run by a professional fitness expert Malin Svensson who is also a former national level track and field athlete from Sweden.
She is one of the first people who brought Nordic walking to the US. She is also the founder of Nordic Walking USA. So you can rest assured you are being taught by real professional.
The Nordic walking classes are held on Santa Monica, CA and poles are provided. Malin will be teaching Nordic walking personally, so this is a rare opportunity to learn from her in person.
If you don’t feel like attending a class or simply can’t find one near you, the 30-day Nordic walking program (affiliate link, I earn a small commission if you buy) by Malin is the ultimate guide to learning Nordic walking. It’s a fun and effective way to learn all the techniques from walking to sports Nordic walking while getting fit.
Besides buying the poles for Nordic walking, you will need a pair of high quality running/walking shoes that allow you to comfortably walk for extended periods of time.
You can find my recommendations for good shoes in the articles Best Running Shoes for Seniors [With Tips!] and Best walking shoes for seniors 2020 [Review].
I hope you enjoyed reading about Nordic walking for seniors and will try the exercise yourself. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate ask them in the comments section below. I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Nordic walking doesn’t require any special skills and it’s the optimal form of exercise for seniors. The increased aerobic fitness, improved bone and muscle health, and activation of the whole body’s muscle mass make it perfect for improving your fitness and maintaining health and muscle mass in older age.
Nordic walking is also perfect for rehabilitating if you suffer from knee or hip issues or otherwise unstable gait. The added stability and power of the poles will assist you in strengthening your leg. So you can achieve enough strength to improve your walking ability.
Combining Nordic walking once or twice a week with strength training just might be the optimal fitness routine for most seniors. Nordic walking will challenge your cardiovascular and respiratory system, balance and endurance. While strength training will help you improve your muscle mass, bone health and mobility more effectively.
If you want to read more about strength training and fitness for seniors, please subscribe to my newsletter and bookmark this site.
See you next time!
14 thoughts on “Nordic Walking For Seniors [Best Form Of Exercise?]”
Thank you for providing this excellent tutorial for Nordic walking. I was an avid walker/hiker until my aches and pains were keeping me up at night. I found out that I have osteoarthritis. Although exercise is supposed to help, it makes me much more uncomfortable. I miss walking regularly and have been considering trying Nordic poles. I had decided against them because I thought that gripping them would be a problem. Your article is the first that I have read that explains that with the proper fit and good straps, that should not be an issue. I like that the SWIX have a lifetime warranty and with 32 lengths, I should be able to find a perfect fit!
Thanks for the comment Theresa! Nordic walking could actually be the perfect option for you. As you surely know, osteoarthritis can affect the knees, hips and feet besides the hands. Distributing the load of your body to four points of support (both legs and poles) instead of just your legs can take some of the strain of the joints. This can allow you to get in more exercise without causing too much discomfort. As a general rule moderate exercise is good for health and almost any ailment but you should always talk to your doctor what type of exercise is allowed/recommended with your condition.
Very interesting post on Nordic walking! I’ve seen people walk with two sticks on trails and I was wondering why they looked so enthusiastic and determined in their demeanor! 😉 I’m guessing Nordic walking would be good for anyone, not only seniors?
I’m wondering if my ski poles would work (not the right length?), or my ice telescoping walking poles (too heavy?)?
So I suppose I’d have to invest in dedicated poles?
I wish you’d have more info on shoes. Why especially those shoes?
thanks in advance, Phil
Thanks for the comment Phil! You are absolutely correct. Nordic walking is perfect aerobic exercise for people of any age. Ski poles are likely bit lengthy and the straps won’t be optimal. You can definitely try them out and see how you feel but you should invest in dedicated Nordic walking poles soon after to avoid picking up bad techniques due to improper equipment. It’s always faster to learn fresh than re-learn a skill. The shoes were just a suggestion, Check out the post that was linked on them.
Very interesting and informative post. I like it. You can post also related information about Seniors benefits and the like.
Thanks for the comment Bern! Do you mean about benefits of exercise to seniors or actual social benefits for seniors? We will be posting weekly about the benefits of exercise to seniors and the elderly.
Thanks for the interesting article. I’ve heard of Nordic walking before but never knew that there were actual classes to learn it. I think that this is a great idea and can definitely see the benefits of it. I live near the beach, is it possible to do Nordic walking on the soft sand or do you need a solid surface?
Thanks for the comment Jesse! Classes and courses are actually a great way to get started with Nordic walking. Beach is also very good Nordic walking because the sand is soft enough for the poles. Though walking in a hilly terrain would likely provide a better workout.
I was at the local park last weekend on a 2.5 mile trail and see a couple walking with sticks. I thought it was quite strange. After reading your article, I understand what they were doing and how it was helping them exercise.
I do some trail walking, cannot run because of an injury, do you think this could be helpful if I just used the nordic walking system on trails.
Thanks for the comment John! Nordic walking is definitely growing in popularity and you can spot people walking with stick all around the world. Nordic walking would be optimal for improving your trail walking workouts. That’s what it originally used for. Depending on your injury the poles can also help you rehabilitate if you are having trouble exercising with a operated knee for example.
I’m 66 and have been nordic walking for about 6 months. I absolutely love them! i used to run and jog a lot, but my knees rebelled. Just walking is ok, but nordic walking gives me the rush i used to get with jogging, but without the exertion. It’s quite amazing. I sometimes walk in the woods, other times around my neighborhood on the sidewalks. I use rubber boots when i’m on a hard surface. I nordic walk anywhere from 2-4 times a week, and do other exercises in between (yoga, light weights, etc.). I have Swix poles, and they are great. the only thing i don’t like is they are not adjustable. i’m going to shop for adjustable poles because i will be traveling to europe and need to be able to put them in my suitcase. Other than that, i highly recommend Swix and nordic walking!
Great to hear you are enjoying nordic walking Tina! It’s definitely one of the most beneficial forms of exercise you can perform. Especially if you combine it with being in nature. Just today I read about a recent study that showed that exercising in nature was much more effective in reducing stress and inducing happiness than exercising in the gym or an urban environment. It’s not so far ago we lived in the forests, we have a symbiotic relationship with nature and I think that study proves it.
I think Swix has adjustable poles as well? Correct me if I’m wrong. Btw, don’t be afraid to include a little bit of heavier strength training in your routine for once a week example. Especially for the legs. You don’t need much if since you are otherwise active, but it’s really beneficial for your health.
All the best to you!
I found your article very informative. I’m looking to get in better shape and lose some weight as well. This sounds like great exercise and being outdoors the added bonus.
Glad to hear you found the article useful Charlene! Nordic walking is definitely a great form of exercise and something most people will enjoy once they get the hang of it. Good luck with the training!