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Nordic walking: skiing without snow

We've never seen a Nordic walker in action, but it's claimed that 3.5 million of earnest enthusiasts around the world take part in this strange activity.

Nordic walking is like skiing without snow or skis. All you need are a couple of poles to help you walk. Dr. Jim Mayze of Goonellabah (near Lismore, New South Wales) says his Nordic walking poles give the cardiovascular system a greater workout than walking without them, with the added benefit that the walker hardly notices, as well as being great for additional balance.

Nordic Walking isn't new. Nordic Fit Australia says:

For over forty years Nordic Walking has most commonly been practised in Finland as the summer fitness conditioning for cross-country skiers. Even before this, sports colleges and health care establishments have for a long time considered Nordic walking as a form of treatment.

Now this activity is spreading across the globe and is being adopted by millions of people as their preferred method of physical activity and growing from strength to strength in many arenas from rehabilitation to fitness, recreational and now in some countries as a sport.

In England, David Downer has just launched Nordic Walking News, a twice-monthly free information newsletter for enthusiasts around the world.

"Amongst the small but enthusiastic Nordic walking community here in the UK, there is an air of excitement," he says. "We believe that 2005 is going to be the breakthrough year for our sport in this country.

"The latest figures from INWA (International Nordic Walking Association) suggest that there are now 3.5 million Nordic walkers worldwide. This number is predicted to leap to 5 million by the end of 2005.

"Most live in Scandinavia and mainland Europe. An amazing 760,000 of them are in Finland - not bad when you consider the population there is just a little over 5 million people, heck, that's getting on for 16% of the population."

Born and bred in Australia's Snowy Mountains, Leanne Drøyer met her Norwegian husband in Singapore 12 years ago, and has lived in Norway for eight years. Last year she founded SkiOslo, to provide visitors and agents with a one-stop city and ski booking service over the internet.

"Being a big city with fantastic skiing possibilities that can be reached by public transport makes Oslo unique," she told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten last month.

The interviewer commented "She's clearly satisfied with the results of her first full season, despite an unusual lack of snow from December to February. 'We taught our visitors Nordic walking instead, to get exercise with ski poles but without skis,' she says. 'It was fine.'"

Skiing on snow is usually fine in winter, but in summer, there's not much snow around So last month Leanne launched SummerOslo, promoting Nordic walking, cycling and sea kayak activities.

In America (and Australia) obesity is a national problem, and Nordic walking is seen as a pleasant way of reducing weight.

"It's an easy, inexpensive workout," said Keith Richardson, CEO of outdoor retailer Sierra Trading Post, of Cheyenne, Wyoming. "It requires a minimal investment in gear, if you shop wisely, and the benefits are remarkable. It's better than just walking, because it provides an easier cardio workout."

Nordic walking increases the heart rate 5-17 beats per minute more than normal walking without increasing the perceived rate of exertion. According to a 2002 study by The Cooper Institute, of Dallas, Texas, walking with poles uses about 20 percent more calories than walking without them. It provides an upper body workout for shoulders, arms, chest, and back muscles. And it's a low impact exercise. Easy on knees and joints.

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Story first posted May 2005

Copyright © 2005

Eric Shackle

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