Recommendations for walking for health and fitness often specify moderate walking, as in 30 minutes, 5 times a week, at a moderate speed, effort, or whatever. The question, of course, is what is moderate? Now we have an answer in an article from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. These experts tell us 100 steps a minute is the minimum pace for proper cardiovascular exercise. If you have a pedometer, it's easy to judge your pace. Otherwise, you can just count. (Left, right is two steps.) This comes down to about 3000 steps in that 30-minute walk. For most people, a mile is about 2000 steps. To figure out how many steps you take, use your pedometer on a course you measure with your car's odometer, or do four laps of a quarter-mile track (on the inside lane). No need to be real accurate about any of this.
This pace comes out to 3 miles in an hour, or 20 minutes per mile. I will go along with this as moderate. We used to take 15-minute miles as brisk walking, but I have recently seen brisk defined all the way down to 20 minutes. Moderate walking, and sometimes even slower, will give you many health benefits. Try to go a bit faster to improve fitness. Better yet, do what seems moderate or somewhat hard to you, depending on your goals. (This will change as you get more fit.) Of course, you can go faster for a shorter distance, but will slow down as the distance grows. You can do regular walking sometimes and Nordic walking for your workout on other days. You get more out of Nordic walking for the same pace and distance.
There was an article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise comparing walking distance and weight loss in over 27,000 women. The researchers found "decline in adiposity" (fat loss) per kilometer walked to be greatest in overweight, sedentary women, and least in those who were lean and active. This doesn't seem to be a big surprise. You would think that overweight people would be more likely to lose weight from exercise than normal weight individuals. But if exercise burns calories, it should burn calories for everybody.
The fact is, the larger your body mass, the more energy it takes to move it, thus more calories are expended per mile for the larger person. The body pretty much takes care of these things, if you listen to it, so that if you are lean and exercise a lot, you compensate for the calories expended by eating more. The same article tells us that the decline in body mass index was more for walkers than for runners. This is not because walking burns more calories per mile or kilometer than running does, but rather that runners were leaner to start with.
The good news from all this is that walking contributes to weight loss for overweight individuals, apparently the more walking the more weight loss. This was regular walking. Nordic walking burns more calories for the same distance, so is better yet for weight loss. What about the lean women? They still get all the other health benefits from walking, and these are considerable.
People often wonder about how to breathe correctly when doing a given exercise. Lucky for us, there's no trick to breathing while Nordic walking. Put your hand on your abdomen, just below your waist. Now breathe quietly so that your hand goes out as you inhale, and comes back in when you exhale. Many people breathe high in their chest, but breathing from your abdomen is much more efficient, as it allows more air in to the lungs. This is how you breathe while Nordic walking.
Start by breathing through your nose. This, as you may have read, has the advantage of using your nose to strain pollutants from the air. Still, as you walk faster, you will need more air than you can comfortably take in through your nose. Go ahead and start breathing through your mouth (as well as your nose) when you feel this is more comfortable. Just parting your lips will probably be sufficient. This will happen naturally. There's no need to force any of your breathing. Relax, and above all, don't hold your breath.
Exercise to strengthen your "core" is big right now, and has been for a few years. Core strengthening is the basis for pilates exercise, and is a benefit of yoga, although the practitioners don't talk about it so much. Personal trainers at gyms can be seen having clients do many ordinary exercises while sitting on an exercise ball because this is thought to work the core.
The "core" in this case is the part of your body between the bottom of your rib cage and your hips, both front and back. Strength and stability in this area is indeed important to posture and health, especially to your back. Most of the muscles involved are deep postural muscles. The only one that is seen very much is the rectus abdominus--the source of the elusive "six pack." Products or programs that promise you "a sexy core" are to be viewed with suspicion. Definition in the rectus abdominus depends somewhat on genetics and a lot on having low body fat, no matter how many sit-ups or similar exercises you do.
Nordic walking is good for your core. Because Nordic walking uses most of your muscles and most of your joints, and does it while you are upright and using good posture, the core area is strengthened as those muscles work together. This can help prevent or correct muscle imbalances. The core area is important in any full body exercise. Nordic walking does more for your core, and is more of a functional exercise, than doing dumbbell biceps curls while sitting on an exercise ball, where you are probably using your legs to keep from falling off. So you can add core training to the benefits of Nordic walking.
With any kind of walking, or running, there are two basic ways to increase speed: increase stride length or increase turnover. Stride length is how long your step is. Turnover is how fast you step. There is a limit to how much you can increase your stride length, and often when you do, you do it at the expense of your form or technique. The important thing is not to try to make your step bigger by stepping farther forward, though this seems like the natural way to do it. If you step too far forward, you can actually set up a braking action by coming down too far back on your heel. Stepping too far forward can especially cause a problem with Nordic walking technique, because it can interfere with proper pole placement. Remember your pole is slanted slightly backward, and you don't want to start wobbling it back and forth by moving your wrist. To properly increase your stride, make it a little longer in back by pushing off with your toes. Better yet, concentrate on a faster turnover if you want to go faster. Make sure to maintain form and move smoothly, synchronizing arm and leg movements. Practice moving just a little bit faster for a short distance until you get used to it. Even if you don't want to increase overall speed, knowing how to move faster can come in handy when you're trying to keep up with somebody or you just want to have some fun by varying speed.
Bonnie makes some good suggestions on what to wear for Nordic walking in her comment. Here, I want to concentrate on gloves and hats. Even some of you who do not generally wear gloves for working out outdoors may want to wear them for Nordic walking in cool weather. Your hands are exposed, holding your poles, so that you cannot easily warm them up by putting them in your pockets or sticking them into your armpits, if that is what you usually do. A hat is really a good idea in either cold or hot weather. You will be much more comfortable and stay warmer in cool weather if you wear a hat, and in warm weather you want to keep the sun off your face. (Use sunscreen too in any weather when the sun is either out or filtered.) Choose snug fitting gloves (not your old gardening gloves) that will not impede your walking technique. A knit cap that you can pull down over your ears, or a hat with earflaps, is good for cold weather. In warm weather, choose a hat with a brim. In cold or windy weather, keep your neck from getting chilled with a scarf or turn-up collar.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|