You’ve just seen someone walking outdoors with what looks like ski poles in his hands. The snow is long gone—and you wondered what he was doing. It’s called Nordic walking—and it’s an easy-to-do, safe and affordable form of aerobic exercise that gets you breathing fresh air in the great outdoors and is even better for your health than regular walking. To find out more about this total body workout that almost anyone can do, our editors spoke to Bernd Zimmermann, founder and president of the American Nordic Walking Association (, an independent association that promotes the sport. Here is what he had to say…

A better workout: Nordic walking uses specially designed poles that enable you to engage the upper body while you walk. It utilizes an opposite-arm/opposite-leg movement. There is no consensus about how much more energy you exert or calories you burn—but some studies have shown that it’s as much as 20% to 40% more than regular walking, depending on your physical health and the intensity of the exercise.

A 2012 study published in Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that Nordic walking was a good form of exercise for older adults because it improved their strength and speed and, thus, their overall fitness level. And Nordic walking is a pleasure to do—in fact, a 2011 study published in International Journal of Sports Medicine found that obese women who participated in a Nordic walking program didn’t perceive that they were working harder than they would have if they had simply been walking!

Equipment: Usually made of lightweight aluminum or carbon, Nordic walking poles come with interchangeable tips—including rubber tips that can grab smooth terrain, such as the polished floor of a gymnasium, and hard metal tips for surfaces such as dirt trails, grass or sand. In addition to providing an upper-body workout, the poles help to improve balance and posture and take some of the pressure off your knees while you walk.

A pair of poles ranges in price from $25 to $200, but quality poles (costing between $100 and $200) are known to last longer. Brands to look for: Leki, Exel, Swix and Nordic Composite. A good outdoor sporting-goods store can help you find poles that are right for your height.

To watch a video about proper Nordic walking technique and to learn more about the sport, visit

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