Scientific Evidence on Nordic Walking
To summarize the acute physiological effects of Nordic walking, it increases the energy consumption of the body compared to regular walking with the same speed without poles both in women and men and in fit and less fit individuals. The increase is due to larger working muscle mass in the upper body. The increase varies individually according to walking speed and technique. If the speed is very fast, there is less time for efficient pushing off with poles and thus decreased upper body muscular involvement. Similarly to energy consumption the increase in heart rate is variable. Because perceived exertion in pole walking is often less than true physiological strain, controlling heart rate may beneficial for those tending to overreach. The resulting increases in energy consumption and heart rate in Nordic walking mean that the cardiovascular strain induced by Nordic walking is greater compared to walking without poles at the same speed. This is desirable for those people who have difficulty reaching their training heart rate by walking - instead of having to start running they can start using walking poles and continue walking. Walking involves less harmful impacts to the lower extremities compared to running, and therefore may prevent from injuries.
To summarize, the training effects of Nordic walking on cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance have been shown to be similar to walking training in middle-aged and elderly women. In fit individuals and in men intervention studies are missing. In the studies, the improvement in Nordic walking was reached by lower speed and thus by shorter distance walked, because the cardiovascular strain was greater in Nordic walking than in ordinary walking without poles if the same speed was used. Walking with poles improves mainly aerobic fitness, muscular endurance, decrease neck-shoulder area disabilities and pain and can have positive effects on mood state. In order to improve muscle power, uphill walking is required. Pole walking affecting on body coordination and motor fitness has been published little. Nordic Walking is safe activity and individuals are motivated to Nordic Walk mainly due health reasons.
Even there is rather strong scientific evidence on both acute and long-term effects of Nordic Walking some research challenges still remain. Ranzomized controlled trials on dose-responses of health and fitness improvements in men and in women, in healthy , in fit and in individuals with minor health problems (body weight, insulin-resistance, blood pressure, osteoporosis) are still lacking. Also, motivation and adherence in NW as well as overall global participation (walkers, their demographics and their social and other status) in Nordic Walking activity is missing.
Dr. Raija Laukkanen