Take a Nordic walk

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 26, 2011 04:33 pm

Robert Sweetgall of McCall, Idaho, demonstrates how to Nordic walk at a workshop in La Grande Friday. Sweetgall is the author or co-author of at least 17 books on health and wellness. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
Robert Sweetgall of McCall, Idaho, demonstrates how to Nordic walk at a workshop in La Grande Friday. Sweetgall is the author or co-author of at least 17 books on health and wellness. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer

Grab a pair of poles, use more muscles, put less stress on joints

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is creating a national buzz with his 9-9-9 plan for streamlining the United States’ tax code.

Robert Sweetgall of McCall, Idaho is also endorsing a 9-9-9 plan, not for taxes but for a type of exercise that is less taxing on hips and knees. Sweetgall, who has crossed the United States on foot seven times to promote exercise, is a strong advocate of Nordic walking. This is a form of exercise in which people walk with specially designed poles. Sweetgall put on several free workshops on Nordic walking in

La Grande Friday. He won over people with entertaining and informative presentations, telling participants that if they follow his 9-9-9 plan they will lose weight and improve their physical condition significantly.

“Do a (Nordic walking) workout for nine minutes in the morning and at night each day and give up nine pieces of junk food every month and you will see noticeable improvement,’’ Sweetgall said.

The last element of Sweetgall’s 9-9-9 plan was told tongue in cheek. But he is serious about what two nine-minute daily sessions of Nordic walking can do. He believes it may be the ultimate exercise because it uses all muscles

in the upper and lower body.

People who Nordic walk burn 40 percent more calories than regular walkers. Pushing down on poles while exercising causes a person to exercise many more muscle groups in their upper body, resulting in more calories burned.

Nordic walking also subjects the lower body to significantly less stress since much pressure is redistributed by the poles.

“The price you pay for spending all this energy pushing down on the poles turns out to be less pressure on the feet, knees and hips,’’ Sweetgall said.

Sweetgall said that if a person is average size and pressing down on two poles next to a scale while weighing themselves, their weight, according to the scale, will be about 20 pounds less.

“You become a four-legged animal (through Nordic walking),’’ Sweetgall said. “It saves the hips, knees and ankles.’’

Nordic walking must be done properly for people to realize its full benefit. Sweetgall said most people can learn how to Nordic walk in three to 10 minutes.

Nordic walking can be done with varying levels of intensity. People derive the most benefit when they use the faster-paced walk-skipping technique. Individuals with hip and knee problems, though, should refrain from using the skipping technique, Sweetgall said.

Uphill Nordic walking benefits people the most.

“If you train on hills, you will be the fittest person in La Grande,’’ Sweetgall said.

Whether exercising on hills or on flat ground, people benefit the most from Nordic walking by doing it regularly.  

“You don’t have to do it every day, just on the days that you eat,’’ Sweetgall said, sparking laughter.

He said that if everyone in the United States did some type of exercise regularly the overall health of the nation would improve significantly. A major step toward addressing the health care problem would be made.

“There is a health care crisis in this country. We don’t need health care reform, we need lifestyle reform,’’ he said.

Lifestyle reform would most benefit inactive individuals such as those often described as couch potatoes.

“These are the people who circle a parking lot like a shark looking for the closest parking spot (to a building),’’ Sweetgall said.

Sweetgall endorses all types of walking, stressing that it benefits more than one’s muscle and cardiovascular health. He said it also boosts one’s mental function. One reason is that both arms are used even in non-Nordic walking, causing the right and left hemispheres of the brain to tie together more, boosting mental acuity. Sweetgall cited a study of

See NORDIC, 6Bseniors who did Nordic walking three times a week 30-minutes a day for a year. It was found that their cognitive function improved an average of 25 percent.

Sweetgall said the study also showed that the members of a control group of seniors who did stretching and yoga but not walking did not have the same cognitive benefits.

Historic walk

Of the seven walks Sweetgall has made across the United States, perhaps his most memorable was close to three decades ago. He became the first person over a 12-month stretch, from Sept. 7, 1984, to Sept. 5, 1985, to walk in all 50 states in the same year. Sweetgall went through all 48 of the contiguous states and then took plane flights to Hawaii and Alaska where he conducted a day of walking.

This and several of his other walks took a toll on his legs. During his cross-country trips he would often hobble into schools to give presentations on the benefits of exercise. He jokes that he may have made some students leery of exercise.

“I was falling apart limping in, trying to be a model for health,’’ Sweetgall said.

Sweetgall has since embraced the value of low impact, moderate exercise. He said that the key to having a long, healthy life is consistent moderate exercise such as walking.

He cites studies showing that just a little extra movement a day has a major effect in warding off chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic disease mortality studies indicate that a person who moves one mile a day will be far healthier than a person who is sedentary. An individual who moves three miles a day will be significantly better off than someone who moves one mile a day. An individual moving five miles will be healthier than one who moves three miles a day but not dramatically so.

The movement he speaks of can be easily measured by a small electronic pedometer that Sweetgall demonstrated. He has been using a pedometer every day for the past 11 years, he said during a workshop at La Grande City Hall.

Sweetgall also gave presentations on Nordic at Grande Ronde Hospital. At each of them he emphasized the importance of using the proper pole-handling technique to get the most benefit from Nordic walking. He said that most people who walk with poles  do not get the “true benefits of real Nordic Walking.’’

To learn more about the proper technique for Nordic walking go to Sweetgall’s website, www.creativewalking.com or call 1-800-762-9255 or 1-888-421-9255.