Nordic Walking Versus Brisk Walking or Jogging

Aug 2018

Nordic Walking is taking the world by storm! The International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA) report having 20-member organisations with instructors from over 40 countries worldwide. In May of 2018, the INWA held a World Nordic Walking Day and in July held two World Cups, one in Quinghai, China and the other in Carnicava, Latvia. Events included the 5km, 10km and the 21km Nordic Walks for men and women. Winning times in the men’s 10km was 1:04:25 and in the men’s 21km was 1:57:45.

Technically, its closer to Nordic Skiing than hiking with poles. The hands are attached by straps to poles and as the arm plants the pole pushes backwards, engaging the upper body muscles and the body is propelled forward. Nordic Walking is a total body exercise as compared with regular walking or jogging.

Nordic Walking is typically performed 2-4 times a week for 10, 45, 90 minutes or longer, depending on the person’s disease, age, fitness level and athletic goals. Done correctly, Knobloch k et al in (2006) research shows a very low associated rate of injury. The most common injuries were strains to the ulnar collateral ligament (at the wrist on the pinkie side); the thumb (equivalent to skiers thumb); and the upper ankle.

If you would like to learn more, YouTube has numerous videos often produced by the NW Pole Companies e.g. EXEL. Also groups of Nordic Walkers are popping up in communities everywhere. To locate a Nordic Walking group near you, simply Google Nordic Walking with your location. Many Nordic Walking groups have trained instructors and offer workshops in the correct technique, organise days out, and even Nordic Walking holidays.

What does the research say about Nordic Walking?

The research on the health benefits linked to Nordic Walking is compelling. In 2013, M. Tschentscher et al, did a systematic review of all of the evidence including, sixteen randomised controlled studies (RTCs) with a total of 1062 patients and 11 observational studies with a total of 831 patients. The analysis showed that with regard to short- and long-term effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption and quality of life in a wide range of diseases, that Nordic Walking is superior to brisk walking without poles and in some endpoints to jogging.

Highlights of the systematic review: As compared with Walking and Jogging:  

1.      Nordic Walking is a safe form of endurance exercise for a wide variety of diseases.

The health benefits are greater for both healthy people and those with a wide variety of diseases including; breast cancer, obesity, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, breast cancer, lung disorders, Parkinson’s and depression disorders.

2.      Nordic Walking results in more weight loss.

For post-menopausal women as a cohort the results are particularly positive. In studies by Hager w et al (2009) and Figard-Faber H et al (2011), the health benefits after 12 weeks of Nordic Walking (40 minutes four times a week) included decreases in: BMI, total fat mass, low density lipoproteins, triglycerides and waist circumference.

3.      Nordic Walking generates more MET.

In Ainsworth’s (2000) compendium of physical activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities, Nordic Walking generates up to 6.3-7.7 MET at brisk paces whereas brisk walking only reaches 3.3-5.0 MET. The cardio and respiratory response is increased by adding in the upper body muscles. Schiffer T, et al study in (2006) showed that NW up to a pace of 8.5km/hour, leads to a similar or higher values of VO2 and heart rate than jogging. Nordic Walking MET intensity of 6.3-7.7 closes the gap between brisk walking (3.3-5.0) and jogging and so offers people an excellent other choice for daily endurance exercise training.

4.      Nordic Walking improves shoulder mobility and decreases pain in Breast Cancer.

Bicego D et al (2009) and Irwin, M et al (2011) studies showed that regular physical activity positively affects exercise tolerance and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Leibbrand et al, (2010) study showed that Nordic Walking after Breast Cancer, additionally improves shoulder mobility and reduces sensitivity to pain in the upper body, without worsening lymphedema and can be recommended for breast cancer patients to increase their activity index.

5.      Nordic Walking reduces neck pain, low back and leg pain.

Henkel et al, (2008), study showed that after 8 to 12 weeks of Nordic Walking twice a week for 45 minutes, people complaining of different kinds of pain including neck pain, lower back pain and leg pain reduced their pain and the amount of pain medication they were using.

6.      Nordic Walking showed greater improvements in early cardiac rehab

A Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) by Kocur et al, (2009) of patients in early, short-term inpatient cardiac rehab after an acute coronary syndrome, showed that the Nordic Walking group increased their lower body endurance and dynamic balance.

7.      Nordic Walking reduces depression and lifts mood.

Studies by Sturm J et al in (2012) and Knubben K et al in (2007) showed that “regular, moderate endurance exercise training is used therapeutically for moderate to severe depressive disorders, and has been shown to improve patients’ mood”. A study of 24 weeks of Nordic Walking by, Suija K et al in (2009) showed trends towards improvement in depression scores and quality of life.

Summary: Sedentary lifestyle predisposes all of us to diseases and conditions such as neck and low back pain, shoulder pain, hip, knee and foot pain, diabetes mellitus, weight gain, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and depression. Lymphedema can cause a person to become sedentary and so increases risks of these sedentary lifestyle diseases. Also, some forms of endurance exercise training are associated with complications and injuries. For example, brisk walking with a vigorous arm swing can propel swelling into the hands and fingers and jogging can aggravate existing spinal, hip, knee and foot pain. Water based exercise is already recommended for a wide range of conditions and diseases including lymphedema. Buoyancy can be used either to assist or resist movement and hydrostatic pressure exerts a protective compressive force on the lymphedema limb.

The research is now also showing that Nordic Walking is safe and has a low risk of associated injury. For the same amount of time spent walking or jogging Nordic Walking uses more muscles and generates more MET. This safe, time efficient and effective form of endurance exercise training is better than brisk walking and jogging. Nordic Walking offers people with a broad range of diseases another choice of endurance exercise training. The Health Benefits include improvements in; BMI, resting heart rate, blood pressure, exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption (i.e. fitness) and quality of life.

The researchers conclude that, Nordic Walking can therefore be safely recommended to both healthy people who wish to prevent diseases related to a sedentary life style and to people with a wide variety of conditions and disease who wish to prevent secondary complications.

Lymphedema Precautions and Nordic Walking:

People with primary and secondary lymphedema should first discuss their Nordic Walking plans and get clearance from their GP or Consultant before starting. As with all exercise take the following precautions:

·         Discuss your Nordic Walking (NW) goals with your GP/Consultant/Physio before you start. Get medical clearance for exercise intensity up to 6.3-7.7 MET.

·         Learn the correct NW technique and use correctly sized Nordic Poles.

·         Hydrate before you exercise

·         Donn/wear the recommended compression garment on your lymphedema limb.

·         Go out early in the morning before it gets too hot.

·         Wear a sun hat, carry water and wear appropriate shoes/boots.

·         Before and after NW scan the at risk lymphedema limb for changes in swelling as compared with the other limb and modify your exercise accordingly.

·         Warm up x 5 minutes.

·         Plan and progress your time slowly and steadily towards your goal, over the first 12 – 16 weeks giving your body the time it needs to develop the new heart and muscle fibres, blood and lymph vessels it needs to grow to meet the increased demands of regular endurance exercise training.

·         Cool down x 5 minutes stretch the calf muscles on a step x 3 times for 30 seconds. THE END