Abraham used a wooden staff to perambulate in the Land of Israel, while Moses carried his aloft to lead the Children of Israel out of the Egypt to the Promised Land and overcome their enemies.

But now one can see Israelis popping up in the streets, parks and byways holding two rubber-tipped sticks made of aluminum, carbon fiber or composite materials, straps and rubber or metal tips. They are engaged in Nordic walking – a very effective exercise technique and sport that began in Scandinavia in the 1980s as a way of “skiing” year-round, when backpackers and hikers realized they could walk more effectively with a pair of poles.

Hikers and backpackers discovered that they could walk more powerfully with a pair of ski poles or trekking poles – “descendants” of the common walking stick – often eliminating hip, knee, foot and back pain.

However, Nordic walking – now the world’s fastest growing fitness activity – was introduced here by enthusiasts only in the past few years to strengthen muscles, expend calories and and have fun alone or in groups.

Unlike most physical activities, Nordic walking moves 90 percent of the body’s muscles, increasing energy consumption by up to 46% and upper-body muscle endurance by 38% in three months. It can even be done competitively.

All one needs are the poles (made in one piece, collapsible or adjustable, for NIS 300 to NIS 700 per pair), and good walking shoes. Children can use them (if you can get them off the couch), while adults can prevent, alleviate or even overcome heart disease and strokes, stress and anxiety, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, obesity, bowel cancer and hypertension.

Prof. Na’ama Constantini, director of the sports medicine center and Hadassah-University Medical Center’s orthopedic surgery department in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem praised Nordic walking as an excellent activity that can and should be used by people of all ages and conditions.

“We have been lecturing on it for two years, and we hold workshops for patients, healthy people, doctors and nurses. We took 50 diabetologists to the Dead Sea area and 60 family health center nurses in Poriya to do Nordic walking and will open a course for neurologists and exercise counsellors to help patients with multiple sclerosis,” she said. “It should not be promoted as an activity only for the elderly.”

Objective medical research conducted around the world, from Australia to Finland, has proven that the walking technique promotes health, both physical and emotional. Nordic walking has been shown to be a safe form of rehabilitation for heart patients, a way of increasing perceived functional independence and the quality of life in Parkinson’s disease patients, improving aerobic fitness and muscular endurance and promoting body coordination and motor fitness more than ordinary walking.

It has been helpful in coping with balance and knee, hip and back problems, overweight, neuropathy, arthritis, bursitis, scoliosis, lumbar stenosis, fibromyalgia, postpolio, osteoporosis, stroke recovery and other conditions that restrict walking.

Unfortunately, the poles and accessories are not sold yet in sports equipment shops, but some entrepreneurs are thinking of doing so, and they can easily be ordered via reliable local and foreign websites; experts advise avoiding cheap Chinese knockoffs.

You can watch YouTube videos of how to fit and use the poles, but it is highly advisable to take some lessons from qualified trainers at various community centers, sports facilities and sports medicine clinics in various parts of the country. Authoritative trainers ensure that the whole body works efficiently while doing Nordic walking.

In general, the cadences of the body and limbs in Nordic walking are quite similar to those in ordinary vigorous walking – but you have the poles well attached to your hands with straps. Adjustable poles are usually heavier than the fixed ones.

During Nordic walking, opposite arms and legs alternate rhythmically, swinging back and forth. The range of movement of the arms forward and back determines the length of your stride. Experts advise leaving wearable weights at home, as they tend to put too much stress on joints, especially when you walk for a normal session of 30 to 90 minutes at a time.

The technique is a simple enhancement of normal arm swing when walking.

Try putting the rubber tip between your feet, with your elbows at 90-degree angles. Extend your arms, with fingers facing forward, and set the pole height by extending it as far as your arm will go. Each pole is suited to a specific arm. Attach the strap over the thumb.

Start by walking and dragging the poles, as if you had forgotten them. After you have gotten used to this, hold the arm straight, with the lower fingers tighter than the higher ones. Exertion should be no greater than a that of a brisk walk. Then swing your arms back and forth to a shaking-hands position, making your shoulders work.

You will feel the muscles. The poles should always remain behind your body and pointing diagonally backwards – never ahead of you. Shoulders should be relaxed and the poles held close to the body.

The hands are opened slightly to allow the poles to swing forward; do not grip the poles but rather swing them from the wrist straps. As the lead foot hits the ground, the opposite arm swings forward to waist height and the opposite pole strikes the surface with the heel of the opposite foot. Push the pole as far back as possible, the arm straightening to form a straight line with the fully extended arm. The foot rolls through the step to push off with the toe, lengthening your stride as you keep your arms relaxed. Do not bend the elbow too much.

Metal spike tips without rubber tips are used for walking over natural trails or snow, while the rubber ones are suitable for walking on the roads or sidewalks to reduce wear and noise.

TWO YEAR AGO, the Israeli voluntary organization JDCEshel launched a program to promote Nordic walking for the elderly. Nordic walking is an ideal exercise for older adults to maintain functional capacity and to lead an active life.

So far, 30 municipalities (not including Jerusalem, which is surprising, given the fact that Mayor Nir Barkat is a jogger and marathon runner) have joined JDCEshel’s Nordic walking program. It includes training teachers in each municipality to become Nordic walking instructors and subsidizing the acquisition of the poles for participants in the program.

The teachers then run eight-session workshops to teach the elderly the technique. Hundreds of elderly have participated in these workshops and many of them continue walking by themselves (after buying their own poles) or in groups using the program’s poles.

Last June, an additional 12 municipalities decided to join the program. Participating Nordic walking teachers underwent a two-day training session to adapt the activity to elderly people with different functioning levels, choose walking paths, deal with safety issues and promote Nordic walking in their municipality. Teachers in the latest workshop came from Beersheba, Bat Yam, Dimona, Hazor Haglilit, Mateh Asher, Pardes Hanna, Kiryat Ono, Kiryat Ekron, Rosh Ha’ayin, Rosh Pina, Rehovot and Ramat Gan.

In addition, at the end of June (June 25 and July 2) JDC Israel-Eshel will run the first training session for elderly volunteers, who are graduates of the Nordic walking workshops. They will learn to be group leaders and be able to continue walking with elderly in groups after they complete the initial workshops with the teachers.

Naomi Hanochi, Joint-Eshel’s coordinator for health promotion programs, is responsible for those who work with people aged 60 and over, “but Nordic walking is good for any age, people who live independently and those with hip replacements, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and other problems.”

A social worker by profession, she studied health promotion at the University of Haifa and has worked for the organization for 36 years.

“The prices vary,” said Hanochi. “We work with a few importers and sell them, with a subsidy, to participants for about NIS 300 a pair. One kind of stick has an elastic band coming out of the pole that can be used to perform various exercises.”

She would love to have Jerusalem join the effort – and the Healthy Cities program based at the Hebrew University- Hadassah’s Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and coordinated by Dr. Milka Donchin would be a natural partner.

ITZIK LEVY, a sportsman and graduate of the Wingate Institute of Physical Education near Netanya, is an enthusiastic champion of Nordic walking. He set up a company named Ecogym after learning the sport in the UK.

“It is my business today. I train Nordic walking teachers and help them organize groups. Just last year, I taught 64 trainers and run three groups. Soon there will be two more for Parkinson’s patients. I even have trainers from [mostly ultra-Orthodox] Bnei Brak.”

He hopes to sell poles at sports equipment chains and not only directly, but he is concerned that this would automatically raise prices to the consumer significantly.

He has posted Hebrew-language training films about Nordic walking to suit the local audience (www.ecologym.net).

Keren and David Weizman, she an immigrant from Holland and he a native-born Israeli, established a company called Nordic Walking Israel after falling in love with the sport in her native country.

“We live in a world of abundance and specialized medical care, which have brought us a quality of life never known before. But on the other hand, this abundance turned us into people who spend a great deal of their time staring at a screen, instead of moving around as we used to do before. We became tired and occupied with the routines of life,” she said. “We set up our company to help introduce Nordic walking to Israel and become a part of this exiting sport that swept the Western world.”

The Weizmans accidentally came upon the sport during a trip to Europe. “ hile hiking in the damp forests of Holland, we were passed by many happy and quick walkers, who reminded us of the groups of happy bicycle drivers we got to know on the roads near Givat Ada, where we live. Soon we discovered that people were pursuing a new sport that simply swept Europe and the US during the last decade, but left our little country out. This sport fits our country perfectly!” They became official importers of walking poles from Germany. Her husband, a longtime professional tour guide, contracted cancer and – happily – found that he could rehabilitate himself after treatment with Nordic walking, she said.

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