Pole Dancing…I mean Pole Walking is good for your health!

Well, pole dancing is probably good for your health too, but in this article I will be focusing on the health benefits of pole walking a.k.a Nordic walking or Nordic pole walking. If you’ve ever seen someone out for a walk with ski poles in their hands, you’ve witnessed Nordic walking. You might wonder why they have these poles in their hands. The short answer is that Nordic walking is a much more effective way to improve health than standard walking. Adding poles to a standard walk allows you to walk faster and also allows you to engage the muscles of the upper body; muscles often neglected in a standard walk. This form of walking has been shown to be especially beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes, people who have arthritis and of course to those hoping to lose weight.

A recently published intervention among overweight adults with varying levels of blood glucose control (normal, impaired and type 2 diabetes) assessed the benefit of unsupervised Nordic Walking among middle-aged and older adults. The researchers randomly assigned participants to either a control group (i.e. no exercise changes) or a Nordic walking group. The Nordic walking group was instructed to increase their weekly physical activity levels by 5 hours per week for 4 months using the Nordic poles. They attended an instructional class and were explained what intensity range they should walk within. At the end of the 4 months the Nordic walking had differing effects in the three groups. In the group with normal blood glucose levels body weight and waist size (waist circumference) both improved significantly. In the groups with impaired blood glucose levels, exercise capacity and physical fitness levels improved significantly. Finally, in the diabetes group, blood glucose levels and exercise capacity improved significantly. Another noteworthy finding was that those in the Nordic walking groups increased their weekly physical activity levels by 4-5 hours per week in each of the three groups. This is great news as it seems that Nordic walking is an activity that overweight individuals enjoyed and therefore were able to stick with!

It appears that one simple addition or change to your walking routine can have a fairly significant influence on your health and fitness levels. While it wasn’t assessed in the study described above, and research certainly is limited in this area, I can say from personal experience that Nordic walking can lead to improvements in muscular endurance of the upper and lower body as well as increase the speed with which you can walk. All in all, it is a great way to increase the intensity of your walking and a great way to derive greater health benefits while spending the same amount of time being active. If you are interested in learning how to walk with Nordic poles please check the following website for instructors and groups in your area: http://nordixx.com/find-a-walking-group/

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Adding some Nordic poles to your walk can lead to significant improvements in your health and fitness levels. Be sure to give it a try, but make sure you learn the proper form before purchasing a pair of poles. This will ensure you prevent injuries and that you maximize the benefits derived from the activity. This activity is particularly beneficial if you are trying to lose weight, have diabetes or cardiovascular disease or arthritis. So be sure to give it a try and see if a simple pair of poles can help you get closer to your HALF!


Being sedentary influences your chances of aging successfully, regardless of whether you are active!

Successful aging is a term used to define the success or health of an individual as they age. It specifically refers to success in aging within the area of physical health, psychological health and social health. Physical health refers to whether one has a chronic condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes and whether one has functional impairments such that they require assistance in basic activities (eg. a cane or a walker). Psychological health refers to depression, cognitive function (mental sharpness) and emotional vitality (happy and interested in life). Finally, social health refers to items such as engagement with life, social support and spirituality.

Research has shown that people who are physically active are more likely to age successfully. But the influence of sedentary behaviour i.e. the amount of time one spends in sitting activities, on successful aging is not known. In a recent paper entitled “Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity are Independent Predictors of Successful Aging in Middle-Aged and Older Adults” published in the Journal of Aging Research (link), a colleague and I set out to understand the influence of sedentary behaviour in this relationship. Using a large sample of middle-aged and older adults from Canada we determined that sedentary behaviour influenced the chances of aging successfully (overall, physically, psychologically and socially) regardless of how physically active one was. Specifically, compared to sedentary older adults, moderately sedentary and least sedentary older adults were 38% and 43% more likely to be aging successfully overall, respectively. In other words, despite being physically active, someone who spends a great deal of time sedentary (for example, sitting at a desk or on a couch) is less likely age successfully in all three domains!

I must acknowledge, as with any research, this paper comes with some limitations. But, it is the first in what will hopefully be a growing field of research to indicate that being active isn’t enough, we must cut down on the amount of time we spend in sedentary activities in order improve our health or to maintain good health. Some people may say that this is impossible, that it is difficult enough to find 30 minutes to exercise. But there are simple strategies one can use to decrease sedentary time or to break up sedentary time. For great information and tips on this, please visit: http://www.sedentarybehaviour.org/ or http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Regardless of your age, you should make an effort to decrease the amount of time you spend in sedentary activities. This may be of particular importance to middle-aged and older adults, as these ages are considered “high risk” for the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer and are generally associated with higher rates of depression and loneliness. To ensure that you or your parents and loved ones age successfully, be sure to incorporate as much activity into your day, whether it be walking or gardening or cooking/cleaning or simply standing at your desk or sitting on a stability ball to watch TV. Anything you can do to break up sedentary time will help, so get moving and keep up with your HALF!


What determines whether a person becomes an exerciser?

You often hear people say they don’t have time or they don’t have access to the appropriate facilities to start an exercise program. Yet, there are many people who are regularly active despite such barriers. So, what allows one person to overcome such barriers while another cannot? The answer is simple yet quite complex. The fact of the matter is, research has identified hundreds of factors that influence regular physical activity.

So the real question then becomes, which of these identified factors truly matters? Which ones are important when trying to make a lifestyle change and trying to engage in regular physical activity? A recent review entitled “Correlates of physical activity: why are some people physically active and others not?” published in the highly reputable journal The Lancet (link) set out to answer these questions. The authors undertook a massive task and reviewed hundreds of articles to determine which correlates/determinants of physical activity show the strongest association with physical activity among children/adolescents and adults. They identified 5 main areas of determinants: demographical, psychological/cognitive, behavioural, social and environmental. Among children/adolescents biological sex (male), ethnic origin (white), self-efficacy (confidence to exercise), family support, perceived behavioural control (whether one thinks they can be active) and environmental  variables such as walkability, traffic speed, access to recreation facilities were all strong determinants of physical activity. For adults health status (i.e. whether one has a chronic disease/limitation or not) and self-efficacy were the strongest determinants of physical activity. Others included personal history of physical activity, intention to exercise and environmental factors such as transportation environment (safety of crossing, side-walks etc), neighbourhood aesthetics (eg. greenery) and access to recreational facilities. The authors also looked at determinants specifically among low-middle income countries and noted that demographic variables such as biological sex, age and socioeconomic status were the strongest determinants. Further, cultural differences in the value of physical activity and social support were noted as being important. Finally, the authors pointed out that genetics MAY play a role in determining whether one is active or not because of the enjoyment or pleasure that physical activity brings for some versus the pain and exertion it brings to others.

It seems then that those who are regular exercisers have the right combination of factors in place. But, the real question is, what can we do for those who do not? Or what can those who do not have the right combination of factors do for themselves? First, as the authors suggest, this data can inform new policies that help overcome barriers. For example, governments can invest in creation of cycling lanes or work to improve neighbourhood sidewalks. Second, individuals who have many barriers but are interested in becoming active can seek out social support to assist them with overcoming the barriers. For example, they can find groups in their geographical area that are interested in similar activities through social media outlets or local facilities. Finally, it is important to find the right type of physical activity/exercise i.e. the type that brings you pleasure. Enjoyment is a great predictor of whether one maintains an active lifestyle, so be sure to search for the right activity/activities, and you’ll be sure to stick with your new HALF!

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: This article was meant to inform people in the field of health promotion and policy development on what can be done to increase physical activity levels among the global population. But we can all learn a little from it. If you work with or have children/adolescents, it seems working on self-efficacy and providing family support will help greatly with their HALF. If you are an adult who hasn’t quite made the habit, or know of someone who needs to create their HALF, then motivate them to become active regardless of their health status and help them boost their self-confidence. Some of the strongest determinants of a HALF are belief in ones’ ability that they can do it. So get out there and tell everyone you know that they can do it, there is no barrier that can’t be overcome when you truly believe in a HALF!