We first noticed people in Playa Blanca striding out with what looked like ski poles in their hands last year. Since then we have seen even more of them and they seem to becoming more popular all the time. At first, we were a bit sceptical as they looked like they were skiers without snow or hill climbers without hills! Most people seemed to be walking on the flat, particularly along the coastal path where we live. Then I noticed that many of the local shops sell these very lightweight walking sticks, which are adjustable and some even have a torch and a compass in the handle.
So when our Swedish friends arrived for a holiday with their ‘walking sticks’ carefully packed in their suitcases, we asked about them. They are, in fact, trekking poles and the activity is called Nordic Walking. It seems it originated in Finland but is just as popular in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia. I thought the idea was to use it like a walking stick and someone had suggested that it helped keep your knees healthy as the sticks forced you to walk differently. But the true story is that they give you a whole body workout because you stride out, putting the opposite arm and leg forwards. This ‘cross patterning’ gives you an upper body work-out. You are supposed to walk quite purposefully and swing your arms forward onto the poles.
So I investigated a little. Studies showed that they give increased cardio vascular activity and improve aerobic fitness. Now, I believe that I am the least sporty person on the planet. I am not a total couch potato but having had a bad back for many years has made me fiercely worried about exercise. Before you shout out and tell me that’s false logic, I do know that! Many of my friends will be giggling over their laptops just to see me writing about sport and exercise! I am dreadfully uncoordinated and never in control of my limbs at the best of times. I think it’s an achievement that I ever learned to walk at all! So I’m not going to suddenly become a sporty type and go Nordic walking around the island but I am interested in this idea. My logic is – if you are going for a walk anyway and this helps you get fitter and feel healthier, perhaps it could be ideal for me. Also I could walk in the town on roads and pavements and don’t have to become a mountain goat to exercise. Besides, I could use the sticks to walk to a bar or restaurant – hurrah!
The sticks provide extra stability and that is a good idea for someone like me. They reduce stress on the knees and other joints and exercise the abs and back muscles as you’re walking along. They also help release tension in the neck and shoulders.
The local shops have caught on and you can buy a glass fibre trekking pole or walking stick for between 5 and 7 euros. It’s important you get the height right and adjust it correctly for your body. Many have a measure along the stick to help you do this. Of course, you can buy more expensive versions elsewhere and there’s lot more information on the internet.
So I borrowed a pair and they felt really good. I could tell I had exercised and the muscles in my neck and shoulders felt like they had been used well. So I now have my own poles and can be seen Nordic Walking around the streets of Playa Blanca – or in the bars having a well-earned rest! My thanks to Gunnar and Lena for the photo and the encouragement.