Interview with Raija Kusima

What is Nordic Walking, what are the benifits and how do you get started?

For answers to these questions - and more - we spoke with Nordic Walking expert Dr. Raija Kuisma from the School of Health Professions at University of Brighton.

Is Ben Nevis going Bananas?Photo by M Zimmermann

Q. How would you define Nordic Walking?

RK (Dr. Raija Kuisma): It's cross country skiing without skis or alternatively power walking without weights.

It provides training not only for your legs but also for your upper limbs and torso

Q. How long have you been involved in Nordic Walking and in what capacity?

RK: I've been involved in Nordic Walking since 2003 - as a regular walker, as an instructor and as a researcher. I'm supervising a number of physiotherapy students who are investigating the differences between walking with and without poles. We're measuring the differences by looking at energy expenditure, stress levels on lower limbs, spinal movement and movement of the shoulder area.

I also work with Nordic Walking UK* on a variety of educational initiatives.

* Nordic Walking UK was set-up to train instructors to the standards of the International Nordic Walking association.

Q. How did you discover Nordic Walking - what stimulated your interest?

RK: I am Finnish (which is where Nordic Walking started) so I was already a cross-country skiier. My family members are also keen Nordic Walkers.

Q. How often and where do you walk?

RK: I walk for 40-50 minutes in the morning along the sea front before work 3 or 4 times a week. I also frequently run workshops at weekends. So, on average I'm walking maybe 6 times a week.

Q. I'm often out on a full day's walk often in relatively hilly areas. How can I incorporate Nordic Walking into this type of activity?

RK: Nordic Walking is essentially a fitness training activity but you don't have to 'train' for the whole time.

Instead, you could use the 'full' Nordic Walking technique for part of the walk, use the poles as normal trekking poles for some of the time and then walk without poles at all for the rest. That way you're getting the whole body training benefits of Nordic Walking and experiencing the great locations you can reach on a full day's walk in a national park. The best of all worlds!

Q. What particular benefits does Nordic Walking offer compared with other forms of exercise such as hill walking or running.

RK: We believe that there are many.

You can gain the cardio-vascular benefits of running with much lower impact on your knee and hip joints. This is often attractive to older runners.

We've shown that there is also a 20-40% higher cardio-vascular work-rate than that achieved with normal walking. This means that CV benefits can be achieved at lower speeds and also with lower impact - making Nordic Walking an activity that can be undertaken more safely by someone who is over-weight. With a greater degree of body rotation, there are also benefits for walkers who suffer with lower back pain.

The pole-swing movements in Nordic Walking exercise the shoulder muscles. This is also beneficial in releasing tension in shoulder and neck muscles and so relieving the headaches that result. As you are also taking some load through your arms, Nordic Walking is also load bearing for the upper spine. This therefore may provide benefits in minimising the risk of osteoporosis for some women.

By pushing back on the pole and opening up the chest, there can also be improvements in respiration. We have anecdotal evidence of this being of benefit to people with Asthma.

Q. How long have you been a Nordic Walking trainer?

RK: I qualified as an instructor in October 2004 and have been running classes since 2005.

Q. How do people get started?

RK: Probably the best way is to join a class and/or find a personal instructor. Some stores selling poles also offer some introductory training. You can also find information on classes on the Nordic Walking UK site

Q. What is a typical training programme for someone starting in Nordic Walking?

RK: We would usually start with a 1-1.5 hours' introduction. After that you would need to practise, then do some walking in a group. Further training sessions with a professional instructor would be useful to really improve your technique.

Q. Are there people for whom Nordic Walking is NOT a suitable form of exercise?

RK: Every exercise needs to be approached responsibly, but if walking is suitable then Nordic Walking should also be OK.

Bad arthritis in hands or upper arms may make Nordic Walking difficult - however the technique could be modified to allow for this.

Q. How does one become a Nordic Walking instructor or Nordic Walking walk leader?

RK: For people who are already involved in health and fitness training, there is a two-day course. For those who want to lead others who are already competent Nordic Walkers, the normal Walk Leader requirements would apply.

Dr. Raija Kuisma, PhD, MSc, MCSP, RPT is an academic in the School of Health Professions, University of Brighton.



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