Becky Dickinson reveals why nordic walking is the perfect exercise for new mums
The thought of returning to exercise after giving birth can often feel as daunting as the prospect of labour itself. Well, maybe not quite that daunting, but challenging nonetheless.
In the first few weeks after delivery, it’s a good idea to be kind to yourself and snuggle down with your baby, without worrying about counting calories or steps. Those precious newborn days will be over before you know it.
When you do feel ready to start exercising, you may not feel like stepping inside a gym or going for a run. However, finding a fitness routine that’s invigorating rather than exhausting, toning rather than torturous, can seem about as likely as the chance of getting a good night’s sleep. Which is why Nordic walking could be the answer. Currently one of the fastest-growing fitness trends in the UK, it involves walking with a pair of specially designed poles, and promises maximum results for minimum exertion – burning twice as many calories as ordinary walking and using 90% of the body’s skeletal muscles.
As the name suggests, Nordic walking originated in Scandinavia, where it was developed as a summer training programme for cross-country skiers. In the past year, there has been a 60% increase in people joining classes in the UK. And whereas it was once an activity that appealed to the older generations, it’s now gaining a younger following, as people cotton on to the benefits.
The technique involves propelling yourself along using a pair of poles as extra legs. As you walk, you swing your arm forward and plant the pole into the ground, creating a full body movement. This activates your core and increases the use of your upper body muscles. Yet the process is remarkably low-impact, making it an ideal workout after pregnancy.
“Nordic walking is perfect for expectant or new mums because it helps take the weight off the legs and is a gentle whole-body exercise,” says Gill Stewart, director of Nordic Walking UK. “It helps you maintain a healthy weight because it increases the calorie burn of walking due to the amount of large muscles involved in the action. It also helps with posture and can relieve back pain.”
Aside from the physical benefits, being outdoors is great for mental wellbeing. Research shows linking exercise with nature can relieve depression, anger, fatigue and mood disturbance, all of which can commonly affect new mums.
Although Nordic walking isn’t difficult to get the hang of, it’s important to learn the correct technique. Beverley Boon of Try Nordic runs classes across London, including some specifically tailored to mums and babies, where you carry your baby in a sling or carrier, leaving your hands free for the poles.
Even though Beverley trained as a Nordic walking instructor back in 2008, it wasn’t until the arrival of her granddaughter in 2015 that she began running mother and baby sessions.
“After my daughter, Katie, gave birth by caesarean, she wanted to find an exercise that was gentle enough to get her back in shape,” says Beverley. “She wasn’t happy leaving her daughter with a childminder so we decided to try Nordic walking with her daughter Lottie in her baby carrier and we couldn’t believe the results. Lottie thoroughly enjoyed the rhythm of walking, while Katie got a good workout.”
Beverley now runs classes in Reigate, Bushy Park, Richmond Park and Wimbledon. Poles and baby carriers are provided, and she says the benefits are wide-ranging: “If you adopt the correct technique you can burn as many calories as a bootcamp workout. You engage your core, work your upper body, tone your biceps and triceps, release tension in the shoulders and get a good cardio workout. And there are great social benefits, too, as mums can make new friends.”
As with all exercise, it’s important to make sure you are well enough to take part, and Gill adds extra care should be taken if you do decide to join a class where babies can come.
“If baby is on the back we advise that he or she should be small enough for their legs to not obstruct the arm movement. We also advise that care is taken to walk on even terrain, and to walk in a group led by a suitably qualified instructor.”
As the weather warms up, London’s array of parks and green spaces have never looked so inviting. So the next time you go for a walk, why not make it Nordic?