Friday, November 14, 2008



The following guidance on load bearing activity was compiled by a colleague and friend, Tony Pattison, who is a Nordic Walking instructor here in the north of the UK. Tony prefers to teach Nordic Walking to clients over the age of 50 (being just a ‘little’ over that age himself means that he can empathise with those of us with the occasional creak and groan). Tony, who is an INWA qualified instructor, can be reached on:

First published locally here in Leeds, UK, here is Tony’s article:


There was a popular trick at primary school whereby we would press the ends of straws. If you got the pressure just right the straw didn’t bend or crumple but became stronger.

Bones are like that. The idea of exercising a bone may seem strange, but they are not the solid material that many people believe but are in fact being broken down and replaced constantly. This process is in balance as we mature but then the breaking down starts to dominate. It can affect any area but is usually where there are large areas of trabecular (spongy) bone, ie. hips, wrists and upper spine, between the shoulder blades. If you think that this sounds like Osteoporosis you are correct. Women past the menopause are particularly susceptible. Within 10 years approximately 50% will suffer from this brittle bone disease. (Anorexics and young models trying to become a size zero through inadequate nutrition are inviting the early onset of this process and building up developing problems for the future).

So, what to do? Increasing calcium intake has proved to be of great help, but dairy foods are the most common source and they tend to contain a lot of fat plus a lot of calories and some people are worried about gaining weight. So what of physical activity? How do you exercise a bone?

The official recommendation is for Plyometrics. That’s running, skipping and jumping: rebound movements. Some people do run well into advanced age although it is often those who start later in life who keep going the longest. For someone who has run over a number of years the official recommendation is to ease off after reaching age 50, before knee problems develop. Also, as our various body systems interrelate so do the results of their integral wear and tear, and if you suffer with osteo-arthritis in your knees the very thought of leaping and bouncing can make your eyes water! Osteo-arthritis is erosion of cartilage, a joint problem, and if you do suffer chances are that you will know about it! Osteoporosis, however, usually becomes apparent only if you suffer a fracture when this becomes, in reality, a ‘splinter’. It is often known as’ the silent killer’.

So the question remains, what type of activity?

Swimming is very popular amongst seniors. It is terrific for muscles, lungs, heart and mobility - as is cycling. Getting your weight off your feet can feel wonderful; but neither swimming nor cycling will do anything for your bones. In both cases you’re being supported, either by water or a bike. This is why people who are obese can still swim. Bones need to be load bearing and to receive an impact. The only impact that you are likely to gain on a bike is going over bumps or if you fall off! Your weight needs to be on your feet. If you do cycle how do your legs feel when you get off? Can you run? You would not use different muscles, as some profess, leg muscles are leg muscles. You would use your hips more and your lower back for support and probably pump your arms instead of using them for balance and stability, but the main difference that you feel is the sudden impact on your bones. This is even more apparent after swimming.

All this is not prejudice. I swim regularly and cycle everywhere, but bones need something else as well.

The social aspect of any activity is an essential requirement for many seniors. Walking, dancing and bowling are the official recommendation. They all are good for your bones. They also complement swimming and cycling.

Walking is ideal, especially uphill, but not with your chin on your chest or staring at your feet and with arms at your sides and hardly moving. The effect of load bearing is localised, specific to the part that is working. What of that vital area between your shoulder blades? The distance between them is a sign of ageing. ‘Dowager’s Hump’ is the extreme condition. It can alter your whole centre of balance (and cause osteo-arthritis in your knees).

Here I must admit a prejudice. In November last year I first experienced Nordic Walking and was an instant convert. It immediately relieved my knee problems (osteo-arthritis) and since adding it to my other fitness instruction it seems to be taking over. For present purposes it solves most of the problems being discussed. If you can walk you can Nordic Walk and, once you have learned the technique, it works the whole body. No more problems with posture.

The object of functional exercise is to develop and/or retain the ability to perform everyday tasks such as housework, gardening, decorating etc. This becomes increasingly important as we ‘mature’. So, without spending any extra time you can guard against brittle bones, just learn to Nordic Walk using your whole body. Many of my clients have developed the confidence and ability to try something new or take up long cherished interests, to date: Archery; Dry-stone walling; Salsa dancing; Falconry and Go-karting. Makes you think!
Author: Tony Pattison, Nordic Walking Instructor, Leeds UK
Posted by: Malcolm Jarvis, Nordic Walker Leeds UK

Another point I like to make when touting the bone benefits of Nordic Walking is that it helps to prevent osteoporosis in the bones of the upper body as well. I have an 80+ year old aunt that walks regularly however when she tripped over her vacuum cleaner last fall she broke both arms. The subtle pole strike during Nordic Walking adds the weight-bearing resistance needed to build up the bones of the upper body.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?