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feature article A Fitness Phenomenon


how do you feel about swinging those poles in public? “For a new group, it breaks the ice, and they have such a good laugh doing it,” explains Gill. “I first came across Nordic walking when I lived in the Alps and initially thought, ‘Brits won’t do that’. But it has really taken off – it’s such a bonding experience in a group, and quite mindful when you’re on your own – rhythmic and natural.”


Nordic walking is popular in the Chilterns.


Anthea Osborn-Jones explains why she loves Nordic walking


Nordic walking is everything I want from exercise. It’s sociable, a really good way of maintaining overall fitness, low impact on the joints and it gets me outside in the beautiful Chilterns countryside. It’s not just for the warmer months, either. Frosty mornings add to the exhilarating experience and spectacular scenery, and with the right clothing you can stay warm and dry whatever the weather. Being outdoors in winter also brings some unforgettable moments: deer running across your path, a cobweb covered in ice, a newborn calf being licked into life on the frosty ground... Here in the Chilterns we are blessed with tiny,


traditional villages, welcoming pubs and cafes, rural crafts and activities, vineyards, foodie shops, even micro breweries and some of these often feature as part of a social walk. Other walks are designed to be a more serious workout – powering up and down the Chiltern Hills can challenge even the most hardened athletes!


Fastest growing activity Incredibly, Nordic walking is said to be the fastest growing activity in the world. Developed in Scandinavia to keep cross-country skiers fit during the summer, it has now become an international fitness and leisure activity with huge growth in the UK. The special poles provide stability while propelling you forwards; correctly taught, it gives a harder workout but the support from the poles makes it feel easier. Sports therapist and former ultra runner Gill


Stewart of Nordic Walking UK says, “It is like using a cross-trainer, only translated into the outdoors. For the calorie burn, improved fitness levels and improved posture, I’ve found nothing else quite like it”. More importantly, she adds, it’s not a fad: “The Finnish army uses it to train, and now there are 23 physios in London hospitals delivering it. It has been really helpful for rehabilitating people with conditions like Parkinson’s, or who have suffered strokes.” It can also help with arthritis, weight loss and is recommended by anti- ageing therapists for its effect on physical and mental well being. While Nordic walking looks easy, it takes practise


to get the momentum right. Once mastered, it’s incredibly enjoyable, but perhaps the big question is


The right technique Learning the technique is vital to getting the full benefit from using Nordic walking poles as well as ensuring that it’s appropriate for the individual; learnt correctly, it’s one of the safest forms of exercise. A typical course comprises four one-hour sessions with all equipment provided, so you don’t have to buy anything until you have had the opportunity to give it a proper try. Friendships develop in the group and people often go on to walk together, either led or on their own. There are instructors who specialise in teaching


children, those referred by their GP, ski-fit classes and classes designed to assist with weight loss, to name a few. Newcomers are often surprised that it really can suit everybody from those with mobility problems to the super-fit. Age is no barrier – the oldest student in a recent class was 85. Others have included those with back problems, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis and all have reported a significant improvement. Certainly for me, the joy of returning after a


blustery walk, well exercised, and having enjoyed lots of conversation beats any sedentary indoor activity and the physical and psychological benefits last long into the future. 


Further information ∫ The writer, an occupational therapist, offers NWUK courses and walks in the Henley area.


∫ Contact her at: www.afootinthechilterns.co.uk. ∫ For qualified instructors near you, visit www.nordicwalking.co.uk.


∫ Only NWUK-qualified instructors teach the full technique.


Walkers Are Welcome is committed to encouraging people to get out and enjoy the fantastic walking on offer in the area. Six circular walks around Chesham and villages have been created, as well as four linear station-to-station walks from Great Missenden, Little Chalfont, Amersham and Chorleywood to Chesham, ranging from 2 to 8.5 miles in length. The walks have plenty of interest, featuring characteristic Chilterns woods, farmland, pubs and the River Chess. You can download the leaflets that accompany these walks from www.chesham.gov.uk by clicking on the Walkers Are Welcome tab on the home page. The leaflets provide maps to guide you on your way, as well as historical information and points of interest.


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