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Scientific Evidence on Nordic Walking

First research results on responses to pole walking training were published in 1992 by Stoughton, Larkin and Karavan from the University of Oregon. They studied psychological profiles (mood states) as well as muscular and aerobic fitness responses before and after 12 weeks of exerstriding or walking training in sedentary women. Exertriding is a modified form of walking that incorporates the use of specially designed walking stick (Exertriders®) in a standard walking workout. This study group consisted of 86 20-50 year old women whose fitness was at moderate level. Maximal aerobic power (VO2max) varied between 34-37 ml/kg/min. A study group was divided into three sub-groups. Control group did remain all their exercise habits. Walking and Exertrider groups did walk 30-45 minutes four times a week at the intensity corresponding to the 70-85 % maximum heart rate for twelve weeks. In Exertrider group both the walking speed and the distance walked were slightly less than in the walking group.

In both groups the maximal aerobic power and maximal treadmill time increased significantly. These increases were 8 and 19 % on an average. A slight increase in maximal ventilation occurred in the Exertrider group, but not in the walking group. Muscular endurance did improve in the Exertrider group by 37 % and in the walking group 14 %. Muscular strength assessed using triceps pushdown and a modified lateral pull-down did not improve in either group. Exerstider walkers showed significant improvements in depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, total mood disturbances and total body-cathexis scores. The walking group showed significant improvements only in vigor and total body-cathexis. It was speculated that the Exertrider group may have felt more unique and special because of their opportunity to do a new and more enjoyable method of walking.

Exerstriders were also compared to the weighted vests, angle weights, hand and wrist weights, weighted gloves and Powerbelts™ by Porcari (1999) with similar results as above.

The effort involved during Nordic Walking has also been investigated in coronary heart patients (Walter et al. 1996). In this study fourteen men aged 61 years walked two eight minute repetitions: the first consisted of normal walking while during the second the subjects used half kilogram poles. The subjects walked at the maximum pace allowed in the light of their symptoms. All subjects had had either heart bypass or angioplasty operations or had suffered cardiac infarctions. During pole walking average energy consumption increased 21%, heart rate by 14 beats/minute and highest systolic/diastolic blood pressure figures by 16 and 4 mmHg respectively when compared with figures during normal walking. Oxygen pulse figures (i.e. oxygen consumption multiplied by heart rate) are indicative of changes in oxygen consumption and are not connected with undesirable rises in blood pressure. The research group concluded that pole walking is a safe form of rehabilitation for heart patients.

A Finnish study (Anttila et al. 1999) did compare Exel polewalking with the regular walking training for 12-weeks on 55 female office workers. The EMG-measurement showed that electrical activities of the muscles in the upper body neck-shoulder-upper back) where significantly higher when walking with poles. Polewalking training diminished neck and shoulder symptoms and subjective feeling of pain. Mobility of the upper body increased as well. The similar results were obtained also in the study by Karvonen et al. (2000). They did study neck-shoulder area pain on 31 44-50 year old person who had no previous experience on Nordic Walking. Exercise group did train twice a week for ten weeks and for 60 min per session. Nordic walking did decrease neck and shoulder pain in general and at work. In addition, the disturbance of neck and shoulder stiffness and pain in the movement of head were significantly decreased. A third study (Koskinen et al. 2003) did examine the effectiveness of NW on ageing employees on their postural control as well as to the muscular strenght of lower extremities and the middle trunk. Subjects (n=24) were 45 to 61 year old , majority of women. They did NW three times weekly and partly instucted. The group did improve in health-related fitness parameters evaluated by the Fitness Test battery developed by UKK Institute.

In a study by Baatile et al. (2000) 16 72-year old veteran males with Parkinson's disease did Nordic Walk 8-weeks in an interval training program three times weekly for 60 min per session with the perceived rating of intensity (Borg 13). Researchers concluded that regular NW exercise program increased perceived functional independence and quality of life in individuals with Parkinson Disease

The aim in Parkatti et al. study (2002) was to examine the benefits of NW on functions important to everyday life among older sedentary individuals in Virginia, USA. Altogether 18 73-year old (62-87 yrs) person participated. They did exercise was 60 min twice a week for 12 weeks (10 min warm-up, stretcting in the middle and cool-down at the end) by Nordic Walking. Functional capacity battery of tests included: chair stand, arm curm, chair sit and reach, scratch test, 2 min step in place and "up and go" test was used before/after intervention. Also a health questionnaire was used. The results of all functional tests were statistically signifigantly better after training. The study showed that NW is suitable for elderly and effective to affect on functional capacity.

In 2003 Collins et al. did publish a study where they studied 52 (65-70 yrs) patients with pheriheral vascular diseases (PVD). The program consisted of three weekly session of pole walking for 30-45 min . Also Vitamin E (dose 400 IU daily) was studied. Pre- and post peak oxygen uptake, Quality of Life -interview and biweekly ankle blood pressure measurements were conducted. Pole group improved exercise tolerance significantly, they had also less claudication pain after exercise. Additionally, distance and walking speed improvement in pole groups. Researchers concluded that pole walking effectively improved both the exercise tolerance and perceived quality of life of patients with PVD. E-vitamin caused little additional benefit.

Purpose of a research by Kukkonen-Harjula et al (2004 ) was to study training responses of brisk walking with or without poles on cardiorespiratory fitness (both in submaximal and maximal exercise) and on some other indicators of health-related fitness in healthy middle-aged women. Training prescription was aimed at moderate intensity (50-85 % of HR reserve, HRR). Two-hundred-and-twelve women volunteered. Their age was 50-60 years, no major health problems, BMI 20-30 kg x m-2 and leisure exercise training no more often than twice weekly. After screening examinations 121 women were accepted and randomized into a NW or a walking (W) group. Walking and NW techniques instructed in small groups. Training was 4x weekly for 40 mins, intensity 53% HRR, Borg 13.7. The increase in peak VO2 (about 8 % in both groups) during 13 weeks training was modest. Study also showed that the mode of maximal exercise testing (with or without poles) had no influence on peak VO2 and its change during training in women with initially little familiarity with NW technique.

In a study by Aigner et al. (2004) 20 untrained healthy individuals (average age 47 years) were studied while walking with or without poles on separate days. The speeds of walks were 7.9 km/h on an average and mean heart rates 165 and 158 bpm with and without poles. The corresponding blood lactate levels were 5.7 and 5.0 mmol/l. In all speeds between 3 to 7 km/h heart rates and lactates were significantly higher in Nordic Walking conpared to regular walking.

Heikkilä et al (unpublished 2004) did study NW in 13 33-54-year old overweight (BMI 32 kg/m²) individual. Subjects did exercise NW 4 months regularly HR controlled with progressive load. The results did show that subjects did lose weight (- 5kg on an average), and body fat (waist- 6.6cm), improved in aerobic fitness (+29%), and in blood lipids.The key factors, according researchers, to these very positive results were that intensity of training was moderate-high and that is was progressive in nature.

Wilk et al. (2005) did study NW in 16 acute coronary disease patients in Poland. Based on this exercise intervention they concluded that NW is a purposeful activity for cardiac rehabilitation.

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