June 29, 2022 – A new study in people with heart disease shows that Nordic walking – think cross-country skiing without the skis – improved their mental and physical health more than other types of workouts.
The researchers used a 6-minute walk test to measure 130 study participants' "functional capacity," which looks at how much effort a person can put into physical activity.
Those doing Nordic walking – brisk walking aided by walking poles – had higher scores on the test than those doing high-intensity interval training and moderate- to vigorous-intensity continuous training, reported Tasuku Terada, PhD, of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues.
Over the course of 26 weeks, the average changes in 6-minute walk test distance went from about 55 to 60 meters for moderate- to high-intensity activity to over 94 meters with Nordic walking, the researchers found.
The findings were published online on June 14 in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
"If someone is looking for an alternative type of exercise, I think Nordic walking can easily be adapted for people who need Nordic walking poles, and it changes Nordic walking into a whole-body exercise," says Terada. "In addition to using your legs to walk, Nordic walking also adds exercise for your upper body as well. You use your arms to move forward, and that can lead to greater energy expenditure."
There's a great deal of support for increasing exercise and physical activity in patients with heart disease that enhances the quality of life, exercise capacity, mental health, and lowers depression, says Carl "Chip" Lavie, MD, of the University of Queensland School of Medicine in New Orleans.
"It has tremendous potential benefits on long-term prognosis, specifically for patients who have issues with posture, gait, and balance. The potential use of the poles with Nordic walking can allow many patients to further engage their upper body and therefore get greater benefits on improving exercise capacity," says Lavie, who co-authored an editorial on the study.
The study included patients with coronary artery disease who were undergoing rehabilitation after various heart procedures. There were 29 patients randomly assigned to the high-intensity interval training, 27 to moderate- to vigorous-intensity continuous training, and 30 to a Nordic walking group. The average age over the three groups was about 60.
Participants did their workout in a 12-week period after rehab. Then, there was a 14-week observation period. The researchers measured quality of life, functional capacity, and depression at the start of the trial, then at 12 and 26 weeks.
Other findings from the study suggested that from the beginning of the study to week 12, physical activity levels went up significantly, and this improvement was kept up through the 14-week observation period. Functional capacity continued to get significantly better after rehabilitation.
All types of exercise resulted in improvements in symptoms of depression and quality of life, they noted.
"I'm not expecting people to rush to buy Nordic poles, but it's the general idea that it gives another option for exercise that could be potentially beneficial for many in the general public and many of our patients," says Lavie.