Coach Jim talks about Nordic Walking and it’s many health benefits
Coach Jim at a Glance
In 2005, after several decades in marketing and later voluntary sector administration, Jim Mackey was looking for an outdoor activity to compliment his interests in cross country skiing, kayaking, cycling and running…that might inspire a new career direction. Nearly 30 years of coaching team sports had left him with the firm conviction that lifelong sustainable activity was key to a person’s health and wellness.
By chance he was shown a set of Nordic Walking poles. After listening to a few details about their construction, they immediately seemed to be the answer to his search.
“I realized that Nordic Walking would be a way for me to cross country ski all year round”, says Mackey.
But he needed to convince himself that this sport was something that he would love to do for the rest of his life. So he bought himself a pair poles, took a walk leader’s class and spent the next couple of years Nordic Walking and Hiking on roads and trails; in parks and in snow and not only became convinced that this was the best sport he had ever come across (“because I can do it every day”) but was also so inspiring that he took an international level certification course so that he could instruct others.
Now in 2013 Nordic Stride is offering year round Nordic Walking programs up to 15 times per week. Mackey instructs and/or leads every group perhaps proving clearly that this is something that you really can do every day (4 times a day on some days!).
History and Benefits of Nordic Walking
There are a variety of stories that explain the roots of Nordic Walking. To bring them together, it isn’t hard to imagine that in Scandinavia Nordic skiing has been extremely popular for a long time. At times weather or trail conditions would have made it more practical to “ski without skis,” this is essentially what Nordic Walking is.
So combining the utility of a pole with the need to get somewhere, Nordic Walking evolved as a lifestyle activity in northern Europe and then the rest of Europe where walking culture is far more ingrained than it is here.
Nordic Walking has grown in popularity as a fitness program. The first well known example was a runner (and entrepreneur!) who decided to use some cut down ski poles to keep himself moving while rehabbing from a running injury. Which if nothing else demonstrated the fact that poles have a variety of uses…that compliment Nordic Walking’s many benefits that thousands more people in North America have finally begun to discover.
Today, Nordic Walking is emerging as a very popular sport/activity worldwide. It is still far more popular in communities where walkability exists in the local urban infrastructure or is encouraged in recreation areas.
In the 8 years that I have been Nordic Walking and Nordic Hiking it has become far more common to see someone out on the trails or sidewalks in this region, walking with poles.
Some of those people will be from amongst the several hundred folks who I have personally gotten started in the sport. They may also be members of Nordic Stride an active group of people from all backgrounds who join in one or more of my groups each week.
The benefits of Nordic Walking are many. To highlight what people who have taken up the sport tell me they are getting from it, here is a list of the most frequently mentioned benefits:
- Environmental Impact Minimal
- minimal equipment
- human powered transportation (viable commuter alternative)
- encourages gentle use of natural places
- as it becomes more popular will challenge carbon emitting modes for access to routes
- Outdoors all year round (in almost any weather)
- Group activity
- Engages most muscles in the body (vs regular walking)
- Easy to learn BUT always a new challenge. It’s completely up to the individual
- Low Impact (poles absorb some stress on lower joints)
- Pumps cardio and calorie burn up versus regular walking
- Provides a “purposeful” walk
- Can be worked into one’s lifestyle (walk at lunch time instead of staying at your desk)
- Is a viable means of staying fit in the broadest sense. It is more frequently being associated with an individual’s ability to avoid health problems associated with sedentary lifestyles. This is becoming very much top of mind especially with older adults.
- Nordic Walkers become very aware of ways to improve and maintain good posture and walking technique even when not using the poles.
- Is both a way to get around and a workout. You control the effort based on terrain, level of plant and push with poles, time on trail etc
- It is a very good way for the individual (in consultation with their health care provider) to maximize their wellness, flexibility and strength going into or after rehab for many challenging health concerns.
- My experience working with Nordic Walkers and Nordic Hikers each day is that this is a sport that they can see themselves doing throughout their lives. That they can flex to their schedule and use the skills of in many ways.
- Nordic Walkers walk at the waterfront all year round…they hike the Bruce Trail…they use their poles with snowshoes in winter…they apply the skills, strength and flexibility that they get to other sports…in some cases they tell me that this is the only way that they can get out and walk a bit. It is a very broad based activity for anyone.
I am happy to provide more details regarding my scheduled outings, group opportunities, demonstrations, or to direct you to some of the studies done regarding the benefits of this safe, gentle activity that you can challenge yourself with as much as you like.