It is well known that walking is excellent for you. Research shows that walking can reduce your risk of heart disease, reduce joint pain, and naturally relieve stress.
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in June also found that a specific type of walking may benefit people with coronary heart disease: Nordic walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronary artery disease “is the most common type of heart disease in the United States.” The study results suggest that people with the disease saw improvements in heart function after engaging in Nordic walking for three months.
Nordic walking involves using poles similar to ski poles when moving. Unlike regular walking, this type of walking incorporates upper body muscles in addition to lower body muscles. According to the International Nordic Walking Federation, Nordic walking began as off-season training for skiers and has been around since the mid-1900s.
For the study, 130 people with coronary heart disease were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group followed a 12-week high-intensity interval training program; the second group followed a 12-week moderate-to-vigorous intensity training program; the third group followed a 12-week Nordic walking program.
After the training program, the participants were observed for 14 weeks and their functional capacity – or their ability to exercise or perform daily activities requiring physical effort – was tested by measuring the distance covered in six minutes.
Additionally, the researchers asked participants to complete a heart disease-specific questionnaire and a 36-question health survey. Depression levels were also measured using the Beck Depression Inventory-II, which is commonly used to measure depression after a heart attack. Participants were tested at the start, middle and end of the study.
Nordic walking gave the best results.
While all participants saw favorable health outcomes, those in the Nordic walking group experienced the greatest increase in functional ability from their baseline at the start of the study.
In other words, those who engaged in the 12-week Nordic walking program were the most able to show increased exercise capacity on the six-minute walk test. And functional capacity is “an important predictor of future cardiovascular events in patients with [coronary artery disease]“, indicates the study.
This is likely due to the upper and lower body muscle groups that Nordic walking activates. Using upper body strength to move and stabilize the poles while activating your lower body can increase your heart rate, increasing your cardiovascular benefits.
Dr Chip Lavie, who edited the study’s accompanying editorial, told Medical News Today that “adding Nordic poles to moderate-to-vigorous-intensity walking is a simple and accessible option to improve improving walking ability, increasing energy expenditure, engaging upper body musculature, and improving other functional parameters such as posture, gait, and balance, all of which could improve walking speed.
This is important for everyone, but especially for those with coronary heart disease.
“Regular walking is an excellent form of exercise that reduces cardiovascular mortality by addressing key cardiovascular risk factors: it helps lower cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar control, helps managing a healthy weight and is often correlated with other healthy habits and behaviors,” Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Heart Center, previously told HuffPost.
Additionally, exercise is one of the recommended treatments for coronary heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Here’s how to reap the benefits yourself.
Singh noted that the American Heart Association “currently recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise per week or a combination.” Walking counts toward your weekly number of moderate-intensity exercises, according to the AHA.
Keep in mind these are the minimum recommendations – more exercise equals more results. In fact, those who go beyond the minimum recommendations live longer, studies show.
To start Nordic walking, you will need a set of poles and a good walking course. Nordic walking can be practiced in quiet, cobblestone neighborhoods or on rocky, hilly terrain – it’s not just for hikers on the trails.
For poles, you can buy a pair from Amazon (this pair, for example, has over 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon) or from the American Nordic Walking Association. Make sure you have the right length―they should be about two-thirds of your height.
Maintain good posture by pushing your shoulders back and keeping your head straight so your rib cage stays straight and open. Use the poles to strike the ground on either side of your feet as you walk, making sure they hit in the middle of your stride. The posts should be held at an angle and you should grab the post when it hits the ground so you have better leverage to push. This will help you engage your upper body. Repeat while walking.
If you have coronary artery disease or any other heart condition, be sure to talk to your doctor before you start.
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