Nordic walking: the low-impact sport more effective than high-intensity cardio

A new study looked at how 130 participants benefitted during and after a 12-week programme

The wives of G7 leaders, including Carrie Johnson and Brigitte Macron, go Nordic walking at Ferchensee in the Bavarian Alps, Germany. PA
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If you are looking for a low-intensity, full body workout, Nordic walking might be the answer.

In fact, according to new research, the sport could even be more effective than high-intensity cardio such as running and high intensity interval training.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found patients with coronary heart disease who went Nordic walking had higher levels of functionality when it came to performing daily tasks, compared to those who took part in more intense forms of cardio.

The study tasked 130 participants to take part in a 12-week training programme in either 60 minutes of Nordic walking on an indoor track; 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous continuous training like cycling or rowing; or a 45-minute hiit workout.

It is the first study to compare the effects of Nordic walking with other forms of exercise such as hiit and running, the effects of which have been studied more widely.

Participants were asked to take part in two six-minute walks at the end of the training programme, and again 14 weeks later, to assess the lasting effects on their fitness and mood.

All participants reported a boost to their mental health after taking part in the programmes, but those who did Nordic walking reported a 19 per cent increase in functionality, compared to 13 per cent for hiit and 12 per cent for the continuous training forms.

“Our research showing the superior benefits of Nordic walking on functional capacity highlights an alternative exercise option that requires minimal cost and equipment to improve physical and mental health," said Dr Jennifer Reed, director of exercise physiology and cardiovascular health at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Canada.

What is Nordic walking?

As the name suggests, Nordic walking is a sport originating from Finland. The low-impact workout can be modified for different levels and involves using poles as you walk, with your opposite arm and leg moving in tandem, ensuring a full-body workout.

The poles are used to push off the ground and propel you forward, especially as many Nordic walkers take hilly or rocky terrains.

The sport uses 80 to 90 per cent of your body’s muscles, compared to 40 per cent used when walking regularly, the American Nordic Walking Association claims. As well as your lower body muscles, the sport engages your arm, shoulder, back and abdominal muscles, and can lead to a 20 per cent increase in calories burnt.

How to get started with Nordic walking

The best part about Nordic walking is it is accessible to all fitness levels. You just need a sturdy pair of walking shoes or boots, and poles. Poles can be purchased in sporting equipment and outdoor stores, as well as from and even Carrefour.

Around the UAE, there are several trails prime for the sport, from a 9 kilometre loop near Samnan in Sharjah, to a 4.5km trail in Shariyah, Ras Al Khaimah.

You can also perform Nordic walking on any regular walking route, such as Dubai Marina's 7km route, or along Abu Dhabi's 8km Corniche.

For a more challenging take on Nordic walking, try desert walks, which add a layer of difficulty thanks to the sandy terrain and dunes.

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Updated: July 02, 2022, 11:25 AM