The UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines describes the benefits of different activities and they now include Nordic Walking.
The section discussing Nordic Walking is “Types of activities that can help maintain or improve aerobic capacity, strength, balance and bone health and contribute to meeting the physical activity guidelines”. The guidelines give a score of 2 for Improvement in Muscle Function and for Improvement in Balance. There is also potential for Nordic Walking to provide Improvement in Bone Health too but there is not enough evidence yet.
What does this mean though? Different activities have different benefits. Some are better for muscle function, some for balance and some for bone health. This is discussed further in the sections below.
Improvement in Muscle Function
The stated score for Improvement in Muscle Function compares well with raquet sports and ball games. Surprisingly, it exceeds dance, yoga, cycling, walking and running. Only resistance training, aerobics and circuit training perform better. Why would this be?
Well, for a start, Nordic Walking uses more muscle groups than normal walking. It’s not just the inclusion of the upper body muscle groups either. It’s also the different way we use the lower body and the better posture.
Improvement in Balance
The guidance suggests that there are significant benefits for balance. Nordic Walking compares well with resistance training, aerobics and circuit training on this. Only ball games and racquet sports fair better. The score again exceeds that for dance, yoga, cycling, walking and running.
Obviously, the poles can aid balance but that’s not what the evidence refers to. It is an Improvement in Balance. This might be owing to the poles providing more confidence in the user and allowing them to do things that they would normally worry about, because of balance problems. It is also likely that the improved posture improves balance.
As an aside, people with existing balance problems can exercise more freely with poles.
Improvement in Bone Health
The Improvement in Bone Health column has no score. It just says not known. This doesn’t mean that Nordic Walking has no benefit on bone health, simply that there is not enough data available to give a score yet. Comparing the types of activity, it is likely that Nordic Walking would perform at least as well as dancing and running.
Risks in physical activity
There is no specific mention of any activity, with regard to risks. However, comparisons of activities would suggest that Nordic Walking would be less physically risky than other similarly performing activities. This is simply because of the nature of Nordic Walking. Support is inherent to Nordic Walking, so risk of injury from falling is low. Physical intensity is usually low, so the risks of high intensity exercise for those not used to it, is also low.
Overall, Nordic Walking appears to be considered as good, if not better than many mainstream fitness activities, like cycling, walking and running. Whilst it definitely provides aerobic exercise, it appears to provide a reasonable level of muscular and balance benefits.
Nordic Walking seems to be the best compromise for all aspects of physical activity. So, if you are only going to do one form of exercise, Nordic Walking should be the one.
The Physical Activity Guidance does not talk about social benefits, but we know from experience that the social benefit can be the greatest benefit for many people. Groups of Nordic Walkers tend to be like minded people and often get on together well. There is no rivalry. We are all just out to enjoy ourselves, while getting fit or keeping fit.
Strolls with Poles – Nordic Walking for Fun and Fitness