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Take walking to the next level

Now that summer’s here, why not consider “Pole Walking,” also known as “Nordic Walking” or “Urban Poling.”

My introduction to pole walking was two years ago, when on a trip to Iceland I spotted several people using what I thought of as “hiking poles.” Back in Winnipeg, I saw a pair of walking poles in a running store, so I purchased them, brought them home to my Lake Audy ranch and began doing my research.

First, you customize the pole length so that when gripped and placed in a perpendicular position, your elbow is bent at 90 degrees and your forearm is parallel to the ground. Like Nordic ski poles, there is a wrist strap, so that you can relax your grip without losing your poles. Most poles have a telescoping two-piece twist lock or pin lock system. I chose the pin lock system to eliminate the worry of the pole loosening and collapsing, which could perhaps cause a stumble and fall. Also, I thought the ease of use of the pin lock adjustment would be better, should I one day have arthritis in my hands or wrists.

Overall, this system has worked well, except for one small problem. On a breezy day, the graduated holes in the aluminum tubing that aren’t in use tend to make random sounds, like the sound made when one blows over the opening of a bottle. This was remedied by putting a strip of reflective tape on each pole.

The poles come with removable tips, so you can choose the correct one for the surface on which you’ll be walking. There are hard rubber tips for surfaces such as concrete, carbon fibre tips for walking on gravel and trails, and even baskets for use in sand or snow.

While regular brisk walking promotes good health, poling takes walking to the next level. When you walk with poles, it is simply an enhancement of your normal arm swing, but can be compared to the difference between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. Regular walking doesn’t allow the upper body to get much of a workout, but when you add walking poles, 90 per cent of the body’s muscles are engaged.

Once you get the hang of it, you begin to apply downward force to the poles, resulting in a springier step and elongated stride. European studies in the late 1990s showed that pole walking increased cardiovascular activity, enhanced muscular and aerobic fitness and improved overall vitality. Your chest, lats, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles become significantly engaged, and one study found that pole walking can consume 400 calories per hour, as opposed to 280 per hour for regular walking.

This all sounds very athletic, but it really isn’t. Pole walking can be a kinder, gentler way to exercise than jogging. If you have arthritis, pole walking will reduce the impact stress on hips, knees, ankles and heels. The poles promote proper posture and body alignment and bone density can be increased through this mild type of resistance training, making it an activity suitable for all ages.

Please don’t use your cross-country ski poles to give this a try. Besides being much shorter, walking poles are specifically designed to promote this activity, and good-quality ones can be purchased for around $50. The only other equipment you need is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Before beginning, I would suggest attending a demonstration clinic or watching instructional videos such as those found at www.keenfit.com, and don’t forget to stretch before setting out, to prevent injury. Go on — get moving!

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