It’s no secret that America has a serious weight issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 27 percent of the U.S. population is obese. That’s over 72 million people.
The clinical definition for obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30. (Your BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9.)
There are lots of reasons for our ever-expanding obesity rates: poor diet, stress and a lack of exercise. Each of these points has their own laundry list of issues that keep people from making better choices, but none so much as exercise.
While we know definitively that the more you exercise, the less likely you are to be overweight, there are still several stumbling blocks that trip people up. They include:
- No time to exercise
- No place to exercise
- Physical discomfort
- Boredom/poor adherence
It is this last point that Italian researchers decided to investigate. They wondered if they could find a form of exercise that was interesting yet challenging, would overweight people stick with it?
Walking By Any Name …
In addressing the exercise conundrum, researchers from the University of Verona in Italy hypothesized that to improve exercise compliance, the activity had to be both effective AND enjoyable. While many activities fit one of these two criteria, they felt that Nordic walking met both criteria.
In case you aren’t familiar with Nordic walking, it doesn’t refer to cruising around Iceland or Finland. Sometimes referred to a “ski walking,” Nordic walking is derived from an off-season ski-training technique that uses long poles while walking. Not only is it a fun and enjoyable form of exercise, but it has also been shown to demand more exertion and burn more fat than regular walking.
To test this theory, researchers divided 23 healthy, middle-aged, obese women into two groups. The first group practiced Nordic walking and the second group simply walked. Both groups did three sessions a week for 12 weeks, with one supervised session and two unsupervised, individual sessions per week.
Each session consisting of a 5-10-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of interval training, and a 5-10-minute cool down. The interval training included six consecutive rounds that included a four-minute “normal” walking speed, followed by one minute of increased intensity walking.
Researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure, resting heart rate, BMI, peak oxygen consumption and exercise intensity. They were also asked to evaluate their perceived exertion rate and monitor their adherence to the program.
At the end of the 12 weeks, researchers found that both groups enjoyed a decrease in BMI, body fat and blood pressure, with a significant decrease shown in the diastolic reading in particular (the lower number).
However, when it came to adherence, perceived exertion, and improved peak oxygen consumption, Nordic walking was the clear winner. With Nordic walking, 91 percent of the women stuck to the program, as compared to 81 percent in the walking group.
Interestingly, while those in the Nordic group had greater exercise intensity during their training sessions, they had a lower perceived exertion rate than the walking group. This means that while they worked harder, they didn’t feel like they were.
Lastly, the Nordic group significantly improved their peak oxygen consumption as compared to the walking group (29.5 versus 26.3).
Researchers concluded, “To obtain the health benefits of exercise, not only is it important for individuals to initiate a physical activity program, but they must adhere to the program, creating a lifestyle change. In the light of our findings, [Nordic walking] activity clearly seems to meet this criterion.”
Walk This Way
Whether you try Nordic walking or some other form of exercise, the key is to just get moving. Find something you love and do it three to five days a week for 30 to 60 minutes per day.
And don’t be afraid to try something new. Roller blade, swim, ski, row a boat or simply dance. Just do it and do it often! But be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
 Figard-Fabre, H et al. Efficacy of Nordic walking in obesity management. Int J Sports Med. 2011 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print].
 Porcari, JP et al. The physiological responses to walking with and without Power Poles on treadmill exercises. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1997;68:161-6.