‘Ski-pole’ without snow to better your health
Nordic walking is highly efficient, enjoyable form of exercise; only appeared in Israel in recent years.
Pole walking Photo: JDC-ESHEL
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
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
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
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
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
A social worker by profession, she studied health promotion at
the University of Haifa and has worked for the organization for 36
“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
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.
has posted Hebrew-language training films about Nordic walking to suit the local
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
“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.