WHAT if there was a way to get healthy that didn’t involve expensive gym memberships or fancy equipment, that simply involved what we all do naturally and brought the added benefit of making us feel amazing?
And what if it was as straight forward as putting one foot in front of the other and . . . well, just walk.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, points out Trevor Jones, whose Nordic walking sessions are becoming increasing popular among Edinburgh folk seeking a new way to perk up their fitness levels.
“It looks like cross country skiing,” he explains. “Straight arms, poles going backwards and planted behind you rather than in front.
“It’s different from trekking with poles, when you’re doing that, your poles are upright. But with Nordic walking, they are at a 45 degree angle backwards.”
Suddenly Nordic walking is starting to sound a little more complicated than it might at first appear.
But Trevor, who’s been running Nordic walking sessions around Edinburgh for two years, insists that with a little gentle coaxing and some determination to give it a go, anyone can do it.
It certainly appears to be growing in popularity. As well as Trevor’s regular sessions that take in some of Edinburgh’s most stunning scenery – from Portobello to the Pentlands – Nordic walkers will soon be seen trekking their way around the Botanics, when a new course organised by fellow Nordic walking instructor Sam Leyton gets under way next month.
According to Trevor there are many benefits to be had from striding out with your Nordic walking poles.
“First of all you are using upper body muscles to shove yourself forward. You plant the pole in the ground and propel forward with arms and legs so the whole body is working. The shoulders, triceps, back muscles, all are involved. “When people are walking without poles, they tend to round their shoulders a little bit. With this technique it keeps you upright, shoulders back, chest out, it’s much better for the posture.
“It’s good for all ages, but particularly for older adults. Most in my class are between 40 to 60 years old, but I’ve had a couple of people come along who are in their 80s.
“If you have lower leg pain, knees, joints or leg issues, you have protection because you’re using your upper body to push yourself forward.
“It can be really energetic. Fitter people can walk really fast – like a power walk. And some people who are really keen go Nordic running.”
Perhaps best to learn how to walk before you run, which is why Trevor offers free taster sessions on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at The Meadows for anyone keen to try out the activity to see if it’s for them.
Once they’ve given it a try, it takes around four sessions to get to grips with precisely how to use your body and your poles – which are strapped around your hands and are specially designed for Nordic walking – to get the full benefits.
“People don’t need anything, as long as you have a decent pair of walking shoes. You can do it in trainers but shoes with a good grip are better,” he adds.
“Otherwise, warm clothing that is appropriate for the weather, waterproofs if it looks like there might be a shower . . . and that’s it.”
Eventually, keen Nordic walkers can invest in their own poles, which start at around £30 up to super light carbon ones at £120.
In exchange, says Trevor, is a cheap and cheerful outdoor cardiovascular workout that brings a wealth of health advantages. “Walking is good on its own, even if you don’t use poles,” he says. “But if you are walking you might as well use poles and use the whole body to do it.”
Nordic walking burns 46 per cent more calories than ordinary walking.
And it engages 90 per cent of skeletal muscle, helps strengthen shoulders, lower back and neck muscles – good for people who may suffer aches and pains in those areas.
For women of a certain age it brings another particular benefit: it tones up those pesky bingo wings.
“You use the tricep muscle when shoving the arm back to plant your pole,” explains Trevor. “Women seem to particularly like that – it’s good for what some of say are their ‘bingo wings’.”
“But there are so many benefits. You are out in the open air, it’s sociable because you talk as you walk. It’s good physically and mentally. It’s an all round activity that anyone can do – even if you have bad co-ordination you can quickly get the hang of it.”
So perhaps now is the time to put your best foot forward and step into a new fitness regime – it could turn out to be a real walk in the park.
n For details of Trevor’s Nordic walking taster sessions, training and accompanied walks go to www.meetup.com/Nordic-Walking-Edinburgh. Nordic walking sessions with Sam Leyton begin at the Botanics begin next month. A free taster session will run at 12.30pm on Tuesday, April 8, For details contact the RBGE education office on 0131-248 2937 or visit www.rbge.org.uk. For further details of Sam Leyton’s Nordic walk sessions, visit www.edinburghnordicwalking.com.