Physical fitness affects the whole body, including the heart and blood vessels, the immune system, muscles, bones and mental well-being. It’s not just about being physically active. There’s a whole raft of other factors – flexibility, joint mobility, and muscle strength to name a few. Here’s eight ways to maximise your physical fitness, especially after the age of 40, with the odd comment (of course) as to why Nordic walking is such a great form of exercise.
- Keep moving. Our bodies are designed to move and recent evidence indicates that sitting down for extended periods of time is very bad for our health. This is independent of the amount of exercise we do. You may well have heard of phrases such as ‘the sitting disease’ and ‘active couch potato’. According to research, 65% of an average adult’s day is spent sedentary, that’s 9-10 hours! You can’t offset the damage caused by sitting by going for a quick run (or walk). It’s the length of time sat that’s the problem. So make sure that you’re not sedentary for long periods – stand, walk, move.
- Your core matters more in midlife. Strong abdominals are the key to protecting your spine, improving your balance and strengthening your pelvic floor. Nordic walking is a workout that focuses on your core muscles without you even realising it. Every time you push through your pole you are engaging and strengthening your deep abdominal muscles. If you add rotation as well you work an even greater muscle range. It’s one of the most brilliant hidden benefits of this sport.
- Ensure you clock at least 2.5 hours of physical activity a week. The government’s Chief Medical Officer (and indeed the World Health Organisation) recommends we do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. Moderate intensity is something like Nordic walking that raises your heart rate. It can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, hypertension, and obesity and can improve mental health. The latest research indicates that exercise can also protect against Alzheimer’s by triggering a hormone which helps regrow brain cells.
- You need to lift weights in middle age. Our bodies need extra work from the age of 40 to help replace the muscle mass which declines with age (a man the age of 50 loses roughly a pound of muscle every 12 months). Weight bearing is important for our bone density and strength as well as our body fat ratio. The government’s recommendation is that adults should do muscle strengthening exercises that work all the major muscles at least twice a week. Nordic walking is in itself a muscle strengthening, weight bearing exercise, but coming to our Nordic walking workout classes will increase the intensity and load.
- Include lunges and squats in your workout. Lunges and squats work the larger muscle groups in the buttocks and thighs. Muscles themselves are calorie-burning machines, so strengthening the glutes and quads will help keep the fat off. There has also been some interesting research recently linking leg muscle strength to brain and nervous system health. Nordic walking with the correct lower body technique gives your legs and buttocks a fantastic workout. The squats and lunges which we regularly include in our Nordic walking workouts are an added bonus.
- Flexibility is important. Flexibility naturally decreases with age but it also works on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle. Every day, we should be stretching our limbs out properly. This will help alleviate stiffness and aches and improve overall flexibility. Our stretches at the end of our classes stretch the main muscle groups – but there’s always room to do more.
- Look after your feet. Our feet serve as the foundation to almost every day-to-day task we perform. If your feet aren’t working properly it will probably affect your knees and hips. There’s so many things you can do to keep them fit and healthy – stretch your toes plus the top and underneath of your feet; walk on your tip-toes and on your heels (barefoot); massage the entire underside of your feet with a ball; do ankle circles; wear correct fitting shoes. The list is endless. Nordic walking encourages active feet, a fabulous heel/toe roll, and correct weight distribution. It’s the first time many people have given any thought to the process of walking. For some of our walkers it’s been transformative.
- You have to work on your balance and stability. Balance is vital at any age but it takes on increasing significance as you age due to the damage that can be done if you fall. Nordic walking greatly helps with balance because it strengthens your core stabilising muscles and your key lower body muscles. Plus it helps with joint strength and stability. Every five weeks we now have a specific focus on everything connected with balance – click here to read more.
There’s more to fitness than mere heart and lungs and Nordic walking is one of the best ways you can maximise it. So keep coming to our classes and you’ll be fit as a fiddle well into your 90s!
Bristol & Bath Nordic Walking Team
You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here and if you’re looking for our advice on other walking kit here’s our recommendations on the best:
walking socks (socks are an important but forgotten factor)