Thursday, June 12, 2008


Hearts and Minds

With some justification we tend to focus upon the physical benefits of Nordic walking, with perhaps a passing reference to the "improvement of mood". For a long time I have "intuited" that the effect exercise has on the brain has far reaching physical ramifications.

To some extent this has been borne out by a recent article in the UK publication "Heart Health" published by the British Heart Foundation (19 April 2008). The article refers to a study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology which has looked at the effect which long standing anxiety has on the risk of heart attack in men over 60.

The British Heart Foundation has added: "It has long been established that poor mental health can have a negative impact on a person's physical health and, sadly, can increase their risk of heart disease".

So, it looks as if exercise can give protection to the heart from two sources - a direct physical effect through good use, plus an indirect effect through better mental health. Given that Nordic walking provides substantial benefits physically then it is likely that it could do so mentally. Research carried out on walking with trekking poles seems to bear this out (Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline Vol 11 No3 June 2008).

Exercise, particularly walking and jogging, has been used with considerable success in people who are suffering from depression and anxiety. We all experience a "high" to some extent following our Nordic walks (see my earlier anecdote "Prozac on a stick"). This is brought about by the secretion of the hormonal substance, beta endorphins into the bloodstream during exercise. This has an analgesic effect on the brain resulting in a state of euphoria and also reduces stress levels.

However, perhaps more importantly in the case of those suffering from depression and anxiety, it is the release of other substances, called catecholamines, which may be bringing about improvement. The effect of catecholamines on the nervous system is evidently to do with the neurotransmitters linked to depression and anxiety states.

Enough of chemistry.

We now know that Nordic walking at a moderately vigorous level brings about a significant range of physical benefits and it seems quite likely that the mood improvement we often experience goes much further than simply giving us a "feel good" effect.

In future we had better reverse the maxim "Healthy body, healthy mind" to "Healthy mind, healthy body".

Malcolm Jarvis Nordic Walker Leeds UK

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