You are currently viewing Back to basics: the heel/toe roll plus 7 tips for heart health

Last Thursday was World Heart Day.  Its aim was to inform us about cardiovascular disease – the biggest cause of death – and what measures we can take to reduce our risk.  About seven million people in the UK have some form of circulatory disease and it’s not just men.  Apparently women are three times more likely to die from a heart attack than from breast cancer.

Not all heart disease is preventable – due to family history etc – but much is.  So I’ve looked at the best of the articles and pulled together a top seven list of ways we can keep our hearts healthy.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. This is one of the most important things we can do for our heart health.  Being overweight can raise cholesterol, increase blood pressure and increase our risk of developing type two diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart attacks. 
  2. Don’t smoke.  Amongst other things, smoking damages the lining of our arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material (atheroma) which narrows the artery.  The British Heart Foundation says that giving up smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health.
  3. Cholesterol levels.  Cholesterol can build up in the walls of our arteries, restricting the blood flow to our heart, brain and the rest of our body.  We should know what our blood-fat profile is (I don’t know what mine is – do you?).  All it takes is a simple blood test and many of us can get this done by our GP.  We can have a huge influence on our cholesterol levels through what we eat and how much we exercise.
  4. Exercise.  Exercise has a big impact on our heart health.  It helps us control our weight, improves our circulation (especially Nordic walking), lowers our blood pressure, strengthens our heart (it is a muscle don’t forget) and improves our cholesterol levels.
  5. Know your blood pressure.  The British Heart Foundation estimates that there are five million people with undiagnosed high blood pressure.  The risks increase with age.  We should all measure our blood pressure regularly – and this is something we can do at home.  You can buy your own machine or ask at your surgery to borrow one. 
  6. Pulse. Checking our pulse regularly is one of the easiest health checks we can do. The average resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, while well-conditioned athletes can achieve between 40 and 60 beats per minute. Click here to find out more, including how to measure your pulse. 
  7. Diet.  Whole grains, fruit and vegetables, lowering our salt intake (the guidance from the NHS is that we should aim to eat less than 6g of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful) and moderating our alcohol intake are all influencing factors on our heart health.

Finally, if you’re interested in these things, there is a risk calculator at which works out your risk of having a stroke or heart attack within the next decade.  It’s only a guesstimate but I understand many GPs use it and we can too. 


Bristol Healthy City Week 15-22 October

Heart health leads me rather neatly into the week long series of events being organised in Bristol as part of this year’s Healthy City Week, which we are supporting.  Its underlying concept is health and sustainability and this year’s focus is on sustainable healthcare, with events looking at self-care, social prescribing and integrative medicine.  

Those of you who have been enjoying the BBC series The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs will be particularly interested I think.  Dr Chris van Tulleken takes a rather draconian approach to integrative medicine in the BBC series but the health benefits and sense of self-empowerment of his approach are impressive.  Here’s a sample of some of the Healthy City Week Events (Click here to access the full programme)

Sat 15th 10.30-1.30 Meditation for a healthy and happy mind

Sat 15th 1.30-2.30 Bristol Nordic Walking workshop on back neck and shoulder health

Sun 16th 11.30-12.30 A basic guide to eating raw food

Mon 17th 2-4pm Miracle cures and health scares: taking people to the evidence behind the headlines

Tue 18th 7.30-9.30pm Developing healthy neighbourhoods: build-in health or build more hospitals

Wed 19th 6-7pm Design in mind: The impact our built environment has on health and wellbeing

Thur 20th 1-2pm An introduction to the Alexander Technique with Veronica Pollard

Fri 21st 9.30-10.30 Getting the balance right: sustainable wellbeing with Mariposa Coaching

Sat 22nd 10am-4pm Autumn open day at Penny Brohn Cancer Care UK, including Nordic walking taster sessions


Technique back to basics: the heel/toe roll

Last week I talked about posture being the foundation of all walking, not just Nordic walking.  This week my focus is the heel/toe roll.  Our feet are an active and integral part of how we walk and we can make a big difference to our health and speed by getting it right.

The foot action

Your foot is meant to roll through from the heel, over the foot arch to the ball of your foot and ultimately your toes.  At Bristol Nordic Walking we often use the image of squeezing a lemon under your foot at each stride – or of peeling Velcro from the base of your foot off the floor.  The action should be fluid: focus on keeping your foot as soft and pliable as possible.  In particular, don’t slam your foot down on the point of your heel and force the motion through to push off with your toes. Keep it soft and subtle.  Other points to consider include:

  • Distribute your weight evenly over your feet.  I think of my weight being ‘centred’, like a plumb line dropping down through the middle of my body.
  • Spread your toes wide and push off evenly with them. Pushing off with your toes helps to open your ankle joint (see below) and improve your walking gait and efficiency.  For those of you who are interested in increasing your speed, pushing off with your toes helps access the powerful gluteal muscles in your bottom.
  • Your ankle joint – very important and often neglected. Make sure you do ankle cirlces in the winter months to warm this important joint up and think about opening at the ankle when you push off with your toes – it helps open the hip joint too.
  • Use your shin muscle (tibialis anterior) to lift your toe.  Too few people do this (Nordic walkers excepted) and it leads to a weakened shin muscle and a shuffling walking pattern in older age.

My Saturday walkers kindly allowed me to video their heel/toe roll.  Click here to see how they got on.

Finally, big congratulations to one of our most senior Nordic walkers, Uma Ambegaokar, who took to her Nordic walking poles to Casablanca and showed them how it’s done!