Aged And Think You Can’t Exercise? You’re Wrong.

A common misconception we have is that once we become aged, there’s no more room for exercises to stay fit. Many attribute this to the weakened muscles in the body, or that the bones become fragile in the geriatric age. But what exactly causes these drawbacks in the elderly? The main reason is lack of exercise during childhood and adulthood when the bones grow to their prime before their gradual onset of decay.

Then does this mean that there’s no way out for the ones who haven’t been physically active before retirement? Not really, because there’s a new form of simple but highly effective exercise called Nordic Walking (NW) that can be taken up by people of any age group.

Walking With Sticks Is For Everyone

Every morning, while jogging in the park, it’s a very common sight to see elderly people doing their best to exercise by using sticks while walking. But the modified version of walking with sticks, called Nordic walking, is not something that we see every day.

Nordic walking (originally Finnish sauvakävely) is fitness walking with specially designed poles. The poles are used to push against the ground with each stride for the purpose of activating the upper body while walking. While trekkers, backpackers and skiers had been using the basic concept for decades, Nordic Walking was first formally defined with the publication of "Hiihdon lajiosa" (translation: "A part of cross-country skiing training methodic") by Mauri Repo in 1979. Nordic walking, thus, is a total body version of walking that can be enjoyed both by non-athletes as a health-promoting physical activity, and by athletes as a sport. The activity is performed with specially designed walking poles similar to ski poles. 

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To back up the beneficial effect of this form of walking with science, AIIMS Delhi recently conducted an experiment.  The experiment, the results of which have been published in BioMed Central – Geriatrics, an international journal, was carried out on 66 people above the age of 60 visiting AIIMS’ geriatric division. 

The Research Behind Claims 

The participants were divided into three groups, A, B and C. Group A got indoor NW training with dietary counselling. Group B got individualized nutritional supplements, while group C got indoor NW training with nutritional supplementation. After 12 weeks, significant improvement was observed in the manner of walking of the first and third group while the second group showed no improvement. 

“Once they touch 80, their physical activity levels go down. It makes them weaker and vulnerable to infections. Brisk walking or exercises are easy to advise but the seniors aren’t strong enough to do them. Therefore, we decided to experiment with this form of walking where you carry two sticks in both hands for support,” explained Dr Prasoon Chatterjee, assistant professor in the department of geriatrics, AIIMS Delhi.

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The research team is now going to approach the Centre for funds to carry out a multi-centric study to assess the benefits. If the results are better, a national policy could be developed to encourage elderly to take up NW. The team is also working on production of low cost NW sticks.

The fitness and health benefits of NW include:

  • Activates 90% of the body's muscles.
  • Burns up to 46% more calories than regular walking.
  • Increases aerobic effect by up to 25% compared to regular walking.
  • Decreases load and strain on the lower body.
  • Tones upper arms, shoulders and back muscles.
  • Improves lateral mobility of the spine.
  • Develops core stability and strength.
  • Promotes an upright posture.

Simple techniques like these have immense health benefits if they’re done on a regular basis. This exercise, which may seem very easy at first glance, is not quite so because it involves readjustment of body posture and balance, much of which contributes to the burning of calories. Hence, for those who previously complained of lack of innovative technology to assist the elderly in walking now have none, all thanks to Nordic walking, in association with AIIMS Delhi and powered by science.

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