Nordic walking for seniors

Nordic walking for seniors

Today we are going to talk about walking. Nordic walking specifically. 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 Nordic people of Scandinavia where skiing is very common. They noticed how much more effective exercise skiing was for the whole body when compared with 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 not only 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 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 muscles.

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 like Latissumus dorsi and the Triceps of your arms but the biceps, chest and core muscles are involved in the movement as well.

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.

Nordic pole walking benefits

The benefits of Nordic walking over regular walking have been shown 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 perfect for preventing and treating osteoporosis, especially when combined with weight training.

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.

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.

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 reduces tension in the muscles of the upper body and neck.

Nordic walking disadvantages

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 but can be certain 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.

Nordic walking sticks are held on to with a hand strap. This makes it much easier to grip the stick for extended periods and make 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 shows the technique of holding and using Nordic walking sticks perfectly:

Nordic walking mistakes

The greatest mistake people make with Nordic walking is not learning the proper technique and using 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 your 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 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 counter intuitive 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? Don’t worry, we got you covered. The first thing of course is to get a pair of proper Nordic walking poles.

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.

nordic walking poles for seniors

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.

Our recommendation for Nordic walking poles are the SWIX walking poles. 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.


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.

Our 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 and is 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 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.

Shoes

Besides buying the poles for Nordic walking, you will need a pair of high quality running/tennis shoes that allow you to comfortably walk for extended periods of time. Check out this review for best walking shoes for seniors.

Conclusion

We 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. We will answer 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 bodies muscle mass make it perfect for improving you 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 gate. The added stability and power of the poles will assist you in strengthening your leg so you can achieve enough strength to walk regularly.

Combining Nordic walking once or twice a week with strength training two times a week would be the optimal fitness routine to 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 our newsletter and bookmark this site.

See you next time!

Elder Strength

10 comments

  1. 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!

    1. 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.

  2. 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

    1. 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.

  3. Very interesting and informative post. I like it. You can post also related information about Seniors benefits and the like.
    Thank you

    1. 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.

  4. Hi
    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?
    Regards
    Jesse

    1. 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.

  5. 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.
    John

    1. 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.

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