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Physio Matters

Benefits of pole walking

Walking is considered the most commonly reported form of physical activity. It is a self-regulated activity and because of its low impact it has a low risk of injury. Pole walking incorporates the use of handheld poles, which are planted toward the ground with each step. Pole walking originated in the early 19th century in Finland, where it was developed as a conditioning exercise for cross-country skiers in the summer months. This type of dry land training for athletes soon became popular among recreational athletes in Scandinavian countries. Over the past 20 years pole walking has become increasingly popular among North Americans. There are two types of pole walking: Exerstriding and Nordic walking. Exerstriding was developed by Tom Rutlin who was the first to design specialty poles for this type of exercise. These poles have an ergonomic hand grip and do not have a wrist strap as the walker is required to grip the pole continuously, planting the pole with the arm in a hand shake position, applying force as they step forward. Nordic walking poles have a less ergonomic hand grip, but have a hand strap that allows the walker to release the pole at the end of the back stroke and then grip the pole again as the arm moves forward. Walkers using the Nordic pole technique use the poles in a backward angled position, planting the pole with a bent arm, and then step forward applying force to the pole. The differences in the hand grip result in variations of pole planting, pole length, and arm swing for both Nordic and exerstriding pole walking.

Regardless of the type of poles used, it is clear that pole walking contributes to a variety of health benefits. Research has shown that walking with poles increases heart rate, oxygen uptake, and energy expenditure by up to 15-20% greater than walking without poles. Studies have also shown an increase in muscular work in the arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back. Earlier this year a study reviewed the health benefits of pole walking. Researchers found that 18-22% more calories were burned with pole walking than walking alone and that this increase in caloric expenditure was likely due to the higher amount of muscle mass that was required for additional activity of the upper body when using the poles. In addition, researchers also reviewed a previous study in which 12 weeks of Nordic walking resulted in a decrease in BMI, total fat mass, low-density lipoproteins, triglycerides, and waist circumference in healthy post-menopausal women.

People that suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and coronary artery disease are most likely to benefit from a simple and safe form of exercise such as pole walking. In addition, conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and people with total hip and knee replacements may also respond favourably to the use of poles for mobility. Overall the use of walking poles has been shown to improve balance and confidence, reduce the risk of falls, improve endurance, energy and posture, as well as reduce stress on joints such as knees and hips.

Please consult with your health care practitioner to determine if pole walking would be of benefit to you.

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About the Author

Kristi Scott, B.Sc., M.Sc.P.T., CAFCI

Kristi is a registered physiotherapist. She joined her mother, Shirley Andrusiak, at Guisachan Physiotherapy after graduating from the Masters of Science in Physical Therapy Program at the University of Alberta in 2010. She also holds an Undergraduate Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Victoria. Since graduating Kristi has completed numerous continuing education courses including manual therapy, vertigo, and golf related rehabilitation.  She has also completed her training with the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute, and is certified to perform acupuncture techniques, holding a designation of CAFCI.

Kristi brings an energetic, exercise based approach to her practice. She focuses on client centered care, education, exercise prescription, and manual therapy techniques.  She has a special interest in hockey related injuries and volunteers for the Kelowna Chiefs Junior Hockey Club.

You can contact Kristi by email at [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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