Posts Tagged ‘walking improves mood’

Nordic Walking: Getting Started

I maintain that Nordic Walking is the best exercise, bar none.  Now, if you’re training to be an Olympic Weightlifting champion, then you’ll need some pure strength training over and above Nordic Walking, but for general health and fitness, it can’t be beaten, whatever your level.

I recently realised that I wasn’t getting the “whatever your level” message across, so I wrote this blog post: “Nordic Walking: from Unfit to Superfit“; if you haven’t read it, you might want to head over there now.  If you’re not sure whether you fit into the “Unfit to Super Fit” bracket, at one end of the scale we have a group of 13 seniors, average age 87, learning Nordic Walking in their sheltered accommodation.  At the other end of the scale we have champion alpine skiers running up mountains using NW poles “in the dry season” as part of their fitness regime.

I have been researching nutrition a lot recently, and am very interested in the Ketogenic Diet (don’t know what a ketogenic diet is?  Try “What is Nordic Walking, in a nutshell?“)  I have some blog posts of my own:

The last one is a guide to someone else’s encyclopedic guide, and the relevance here is that he recommends certain sorts of exercise.

3J. Aerobic Exercise

 The body burns primarily glycogen when the heart rate is above 70% of its max. Therefore, aerobic exercises such as HIIT are good for burning liver-glycogen stores during induction, but such high-intensity exercise is not recommended once under ketosis as once muscle-glycogen stores are depleted, the body will begin catabolizing mainly muscle-mass under any high-intensity activity.

The ideal aerobic exercises to perform when under ketosis are MISS (medium intensity steady state) and LISS (low intensity steady state).

HIIT = Periods of high-intensity activity followed by an abrupt switch to low-intensity activity.

MISS = Maintained medium-intensity activity (lightly jogging).

LISS = Maintained low-intensity activity (walking).

I maintain that Nordic Walking can actually supply all three types.  Gentle Nordic Walking will give you LISS, but better than just walking.  If you are obese (“a person of size”) then your weight will put stress on your skeleton and your joints.  When I began all of this even a medium walk made my back ache more than anything else because of the strain on my back muscles from carrying my belly fat around (any woman who has been pregnant will be able to relate to this!)  The Nordic Walking poles support your upper body as well as your lower body and take part of that strain off of your muscles as well has giving your hips and knees an easier time.

At the same time, Nordic Walking is exercising all of your major muscle groups (legs, arms and core muscles), not just your legs, so you are burning more calories for less apparent effort.

When you have got a little fitter you can crank up the Nordic Walking a bit (check out ”Nordic Walking: from Unfit to Superfit“).  And if you need to do HIIT, you can do that through Nordic Walking, too (again, check out that other blog post).

Getting Started

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageYou will need a set of Nordic Walking poles.  Susan and I started with Leki Spins, which you can get from Amazon.  The link on the left is to Amazon UK, that on the right to Amazon.com.  The UK site says “stick” … but they are a pair!  If anything I think the American site offers a slightly better deal, but it depends where you live.

Don’t mistake trekking poles for Nordic Walking poles, they are NOT the same thing.  Our current favourite poles are Gabel Fusion.  As far as I can tell they aren’t available in the USA (unless you know differently) and in the UK are only available through Nordic Walking UK.  As Susan is a registered instructor with NWUK, I believe that we can get them at a discount, so talk to us!

What we like about them are that they are three section and will break down small enough to go even in an Easyjet-approved cabin bag!  Also, they come with a variety of accessories, like different hand grips so that you can use them as NW poles or trekking poles, and various tips for hard surface, soft surface, mud and even snow (although I had left the snow baskets at home when I encountered soft, waist-deep snow in Aspen in March 2013!)

If you are in the USA, particularly if you’re in Colorado, consider getting Boomyah Tone & Trek (I have recently discovered that Boomyah are going out of business and have stopped manufacturing!  But, for the moment, their videos still work). They are a little easier than others to use, and they do have a great set of videos on their site to teach you how to use them.  Here’s their intro video (but all the benefits they mention apply to any set of NW poles):

I have recently discovered a new Nordic Walking pole manufacturer in Estonia.  When I come back to Florida in the winter I may well bring a stock of their poles: they are excellent, and inexpensive.

OK, great!  Now, how do we actually do it?  Here are four videos of Susan, showing the basics:

These four videos give you 80% of everything you need to know, in about 20% of the time (or less!)

Here Susan demonstrates good walking technique:

Here’s the proper grip on the poles:

The proper angle of the poles:

And lastly, Susan puts it all together:

… and here are the Boomyah videos covering pretty much the same stuff.  First, Getting Ready”

The basics:

Warm up and cool down stretches:

There are other videos: see them all on the Boomyah site.

That’s it: you’re Nordic Walking!

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageOther kit that you need.  If you are taking your health seriously, and especially if you’re on a ketogenic diet, you need to be drinking water.  If you are walking anywhere that the temperature is anything above chilly, you need to be drinking extra water, especially if the exercise is increasing your breathing rate.  And you might have noticed that both of your hands are strapped in to your Nordic Walking poles, making it difficult to access your drink bottle without poking your eye out!  Which is why you need something like a Camelbak or other hydration-ready back pack, complete with drinking bladder and tube.

Amazon ImageThe type of backpack you get is completely up to you and how much you want to spend.  But I can’t recommend highly enough that you get a Platypus Hoser bladder and tube.  They have the stunning advantage of not tasting like hospitals smell!  Again, UK on the left, USA on the right.  Those illustrated are two-liter.  The hotter the area where you walk (I’m thinking Florida here!) the more likely you need to go with the three-liter version.

The picture here is of a Camelbak back pack, but it doesn’t have to be Camelbak.  As much as I’d like you to use our Amazon affiliate links, you’d probably do better to go to your local outdoors store, and talk to the folk there.  You want a day pack that is “hydration ready” (that just means it’s got a place to put the bladder and a hole for the tube to come through).  Then you can drink and walk without even stopping, which means you can take frequent sips, rather than waiting until your mouth is like the Sahara desert!

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageThe next thing that you might need is a heart-rate monitor.  Remember, once you are into ketosis you are aiming for low to moderate intensity exercise.  The temptation is to go too far, too fast.  A good heart rate monitor will have a strap round your chest with a transmitter, and a watch/monitor combined.  You can pay a fortune for these, but the ones illustrated here are perfectly adequate.

When they arrive, read the instructions and when you don’t understand them, get your nephew or the kid next door to help!  You have to program in your age, gender, height, weight, etc.  It will then tell you when you’re in the “fat-burning zone”.  Basically, it tells you to stop or slow down if you’re going too fast, which is really important.  The alternative is that you get very tired to no good effect!

Lastly, you need something on your feet.  Here I would NOT ask the guy in the shop, because he will start talking about pronation and supination and have you walking up and down the shop, and out the door and down the street to visit with your bank to get a loan for the huge amount of money that they will want to charge you.  But here’s the thing.  Foot injuries and ankle injuries and leg injuries only started to really get bad after Nike.  All that support means that the muscles of your legs and feet don’t have to do anything, and they get soft and floppy.  As long as your soles are protected from sharp stones and your feet are kept reasonable dry, and the shoes feel comfortable, that should do.  Vibram soles are good (they grip and don’t wear out too soon) … but I have recently taken to wearing soft Crocs, and they seem to be fine.  It’s what suits you best, is comfortable, and doesn’t cost the earth.  The first man to run a four-minute mile did it in a pair of thin leather slippers.  Think what native Americans used to wear: moccasins. They make your feet work and keep the muscles strong.

Where Should I walk, and How Far?

I have a simple pedometer: cost me about £10 or $15.  You can pick them up in a sports store or from Amazon or eBay.  Wear one for a week, without doing anything new.  At the end of the week see how many steps you have taken.  If you have taken 70,000 steps in a week then you don’t need any advice from me!

But let’s say you only walked 10,000 steps in a week.  That means you are 60,000 short of a healthy goal.  So, over 26 weeks you are going to increase from 10,000 to 70,000 steps in a week, by doing three short walks and one long walk (where the long is three times longer than the short) each week.  Each week you are going to do 2,400 steps more than the week before, but in six “units”.  So your short walk the first week will be 2400/6 = 400 steps, and your long will be 1200 steps.  Each week your short walks will be 400 steps longer than the previous week, and your long walk 1200 steps longer.  That does mean that in week two you’ll walk twice as far as week one, but the walks in week one were so trivially short it doesn’t matter!

But by week 26 your short walks will be about 2.5 miles and your long walks a little over 6 miles, and you’ll never look back!

Happy walking!

Oh, and, where should you walk?  Anywhere that pleases you, but if it were me it would have grass and trees and sky!

Best Nordic Walking Video

This gets my prize for the best Nordic Walking video I’ve seen so far!

It inspires me as an instructor, walk-leader, and walker. And it inspires me as a film-maker!

I think I might translate the title as “Nordic Walking: Marching to a Different Drum”

How Walking for Happpiness Affects Your Mood

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

John Muir

Most walkers agree that walking makes them feel better. Whether a long-distance hiker, a power-walker, or just a recreational rambler, or even what Thoreau called a “saunterer”, all would say similar things about walking: “I feel relaxed when I walk”, “Walking makes me feel happier”, “When I get stressed, I walk”.

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Soren Kierkegaard

So it seems that many people believe that walking can have positive effects on your mood. But is that really so? Is there hard evidence, or just the firmly-held opinions of people who happen to like walking anyway? What effect does walking … or any exercise, for that matter … really have on your brain? To find out, we must learn a little bit about how the chemicals in your brain (neuro-chemicals) affect your mood.

There are four main brain chemicals that affect mood. They are:

  1. Serotonin,
  2. Adrenaline (also called Epinephrine),
  3. Dopamine,
  4. Endorphins.

Serotonin lifts your mood, increases your feelings of satisfaction (including being satiated–having had enough to eat), and lifts any depression. I’m sure that many people reading this will have experienced the mood-lift brought about by a rise in serotonin at some point. It is that satisfied feeling you may get after getting physically tired after doing something fairly strenuous but fun for some time, or eating a really good meal that you enjoyed. It is also that feeling of comfort we get from spending time with close friends or family we like. Serotonin levels are lowered by:

  • chronic stress or anxiety,
  • starvation or a low-carbohydrate diet,
  • inactivity

leaving you feeling depressed, irritable, moody, and exhausted. Funnily enough, there is a way of low-carb dieting that actually boosts serotonin, but I’ll leave that until a later post.

On the other hand, serotonin levels are strongly elevated after a long walk, even at moderate intensity levels.

Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is responsible for the “fight or flight” response that occurs when we get scared, or feel stressed. The effect adrenaline has on the body is to increase heart rate and blood pressure, elevate temperature, stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (used for voluntary muscle contraction), repress the parasympathetic nervous system (used for digestion, immune response, injury repair, and sleeping) and increase cortisol levels. In today’s fast-paced world, we all probably experience adrenaline on a daily basis. Racing to get things done, being late, driving in rush-hour traffic, juggling too many tasks at once, and starvation can all stimulate adrenaline. Adrenaline can become depleted with chronic stress or anxiety, leaving you feeling worn out, exhausted, mentally drained, and often depressed. Adrenaline is temporarily elevated when we exercise at very high intensity levels. Exercising at lower intensity levels, or performing intervals, (alternating intense exertion and rest) can lower adrenaline levels.

Dopamine is the neuro-chemical that is responsible for sleeping and waking cycles. While we may not recognise when dopamine is correctly balanced, we certainly know when our sleeping and waking cycles have been disrupted. Commonly described as “jet lag”, a disruption in our sleeping and waking cycle (our “circadian rhythm”) is caused by an imbalance in the dopamine level. Dopamine stores can become depleted with chronic stress, or anxiety, and intense trauma, starvation or low carbohydrate diets. Dopamine can also be affected by serotonin levels, becoming depleted when serotonin is depleted. Likewise, dopamine levels can be elevated by elevating the serotonin level. Therefore, performing long-duration exercise at moderate intensity can elevate dopamine levels.

Endorphins are the neuro-chemicals that act as the body’s “natural painkillers”. Endorphins are responsible for the decrease in physical pain with exercise. Many runners will attest to the fact that chronic pains seem less noticeable during, and immediately after a run. Endorphins are also responsible for the ability to disregard, or perhaps not even notice pain, when engaged in a physical activity. This is why we can run, or play without noticing blisters on our feet, until after the run, or game. Endorphins can allow us to perform activities that would otherwise be stopped by pain. Endorphins are also partly responsible for the “runner’s high” that is often reported by devout runners; walkers can experience it, too. The endorphin response to exercise increases with frequency of the exercise. Interestingly, substance and alcohol abuse can deplete the endorphin response to exercise. However, all people, regardless of history, will experience a rise in endorphin levels with exercise of any kind.

Exercise, of any kind will have a positive effect on all four of our neuro-chemicals, but does the type of exercise we perform matter? To some extent, the answer is yes.

When we perform exercise at very high intensity levels, adrenaline levels tend to become elevated, more so than with low to moderate intensity level exercise. Power lifting, weight training, sprinting, interval training, plyometrics (explosive muscle training ) and ballistic training can all create a rise in adrenaline levels. Likewise any sport that relies more on explosive, start and stop efforts than a consistent moderate intensity effort, would create a significant rise in adrenaline levels. This means that sports that utilise more fast-twitch muscle fibres than slow-twitch muscle fibres will have a noticeable impact on the adrenaline levels. When we recruit fast twitch muscle fibres, we create the same fight or flight response that would be created in response to real trauma. This response generates very high levels of adrenaline.

While explosive forms of exercise and sports generate a rise in adrenaline, low to moderate intensity exercise tends to create a rise in serotonin. Long-distance walking, running, cycling, hiking, swimming, yoga, and sports that rely more on endurance than power create a rise in serotonin levels. Therefore, any sport or exercise that recruits more slow-twitch muscle fibres (such as walking) than fast twitch muscle fibres, will increase serotonin levels. When we recruit slow-twitch muscle fibres, the purpose is to be able to perform moderate intensity exercise for a long time. While the chemical connection between moderate-intensity exercise and increased levels of serotonin in not fully understood, perhaps a long walk creates an increase in positive emotional states, which would positively affect serotonin levels. The rise in serotonin that is experienced with moderate intensity exercise, seems to be similar in nature to the rise in serotonin that is experienced when one is surrounded by good friends and family. In general, when one engages in positive experiences, including exercise at low moderate intensity levels, we see a rise in serotonin levels.

When serotonin levels rise, dopamine levels tend to rise as well. This means that walking, or engaging in sports at low to moderate intensity levels will have a positive impact on dopamine levels. We have all experienced the good night’s rest that is typical following a good workout. However, we have probably also experienced the disrupted sleep that can follow intense exercise performed too late. It seems then that low to moderate intensity exercise has a positive effect on dopamine levels, while exercise that is very intense can lower dopamine levels, causing a disruption in sleep. In fact, one of the symptoms of overtraining is a disruption in the athlete’s sleep pattern, so walk for a good night’s sleep.

While dopamine and serotonin are more strongly elevated by low to moderate intensity exercise, than with intense exercise, the endorphin response to exercise seems to be non-selective. We experience a rise in endorphins regardless of the type, or intensity of the exercise. However, the endorphin response to exercise becomes stronger with exercise frequency. It seems that the more exercise we perform, the more endorphins we produce with each exercise bout. While natural painkillers are never a bad thing, we do want to be careful of overtraining, which will disrupt sleep patterns, putting us at a greater risk of injury, so follow our walking training plan.

While we can begin to predict the neurochemical response to walking, does this mean that we can control mood through walking? Many researchers would answer yes. While, perhaps we may not thoroughly understand all of the mechanisms at play, we can say that different intensities of exercise create different chemical responses in the body. More than anything, however, we do know, beyond any doubt, that walking has a very positive effect on mood. So walking can creating the mood you want. Happy walking; go Walk For Happiness!

This post is based on an article by Claire Dorotik, with her permission

Brighter Brains for Happy Walkers

Brains shrink in older people, but a recent study shows exercise increases brain power. And as Walking For Happiness is the most effective, and second most fun exercise on the planet, available to all, from the super-fit to the super-fat, what’s not to like! Sharpen your brain, NOW!

Read this article from Mercola.com: Simple Way to Radically Increase Your Brain Power
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