Hike to Better Health with Nordic Walking

Regardless of the time of year, taking a walk outside can be nice experience—you can get some fresh air, stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery, and connect with neighbors or others out exercising.

Nordic Walking Couple
Nordic walking can be a great option for people who have trouble walking because of arthritis.

But if you have arthritis, particularly of the hips, knees, ankles, or feet, you may feel that the joys of walking aren't for you, because of the pain it causes or issues with your balance and gait.

If that's the case, Nordic walking may be just the helpful tool you need to make taking a walk easier or more enjoyable.

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Nordic walking is a type of aerobic walking done with the assistance of Nordic or trekking poles. Hikers have long used trekking poles to provide extra support and stability while on long journeys or over treacherous terrain. But there's no rule saying that you must be headed over mountains to use them. For those with arthritis, they can be just as useful on a walk around the block.

There hasn't been much research done on the benefits of Nordic walking specifically for people with arthritis. But research of other groups, such as older adults and people with chronic conditions, has shown a clear advantage for Nordic walking, including less stress on lower limb joints and aerobic engagement of the arms and upper body.

7 tips for Nordic walking

If you're interested in giving Nordic walking a try, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Poles should have both metal and rubber tips (usually they have metal tips with rubber covers). The metal is useful when walking in grass or dirt, and the rubber is better for asphalt.
  2. Choose poles that are right for your height. When you hold the hand grips with the pole at your side, your elbows should make 90 degree angles. Many poles are height adjustable.
  3. Choose poles with wrist straps and use them constantly and correctly: thread your hand up through the bottom of the loop and then grip the handhold, so the strap rests snugly on the top of your wrist.
  4. If you have arthritis in your hands, look for poles that have an ergonomic or soft grip to make holding them easier.
  5. When you walk, plant your poles next to the back of your foot and push on the poles as you step. This will give you forward thrust that comes from the arms and upper body rather than just the legs. If you need more stability or have shoulder arthritis, you can plant your pole farther forward for more support.
  6. Try moving your pole forward in time with the opposite foot. This can give you more balance and feels more natural with your regular arm swing. Or you can sync the pole with the same-side foot (which supports the leg better).
  7. You may want to seek out a Nordic walking group to join or form your own. This way, you can reap the additional benefits of having guidance and social support for your walking efforts.

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Post written by Carrie DeVries