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Should I Give Up Running for ‘Nordic Walking’?

Maybe not running, but I definitely should make sure I take ski poles with me whenever I’m going out for a nice stroll

For several years, running has been my exercise of choice, but at the same time, I’m always on the lookout for ways to not run. Being able to reap the physical and mental benefits of running while doing something that’s easier than quickly pumping my stubby little legs sounds like a dream. Which brings me to “Nordic walking”…

In short, Nordic walking is regular walking but with poles. Unlike other versions of ~fitness walking~ that may entail strutting around the neighborhood with ankle weights and little dumbbells, Nordic walkers use ski poles to propel themselves forward while stabilizing and lowering the force of impact on their joints

The practice originated in the 1900s as a way for Finnish cross-country skiers to stay in shape over the summer. With the pandemic closing down gyms and pushing quarantined people out into these streets to stay in shape, Nordic walking is finally catching on in the U.S., too. 

In a review of the exercise in Harvard Health Publishing, cardiologist Aaron Baggish raves about the benefits of Nordic walking. Where going for a normal walk engages only the lower half of your body, Nordic walking engages “80 percent to 90 percent of your muscles […] providing a substantial calorie-burning benefit,” he says. To that end, some studies even suggest Nordic walking burns up to 67 percent more calories than normal walking. 

But does that mean everyone, including fairly healthy runners like myself, should go buy some Nordic walking poles? 

Not necessarily. 

Similar to jumping rope, albeit to a lesser extent, Nordic walking provides a joint-friendly way to get some cardiovascular exercise into your daily life. The whole-body, low-impact workout is ideal for anyone who wants to start getting into shape, avoid undue stress on their joints, up the ante on their daily walks and/or just hates running

If you enjoy running, or want to eventually run a marathon, then keep running. While being easier on the joints, Nordic walking is nowhere near as intense as running. Particularly if you want to burn fat, Nordic walking doesn’t achieve the extended, high-intensity intervals that running (or cycling, swimming, jumping rope, etc.) do. 

Personally speaking, I’m too hooked on the sweet, sweet runner’s high to give it up while my joints are in good shape. That said, assuming city life will soon return to normal, I’m definitely keeping my eye out for a cheap set of Nordic walking poles for when I’m traveling by foot everywhere again.