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Walk This Way to Boost Mood and Heart Function

Nordic walking greatly enhances the health benefits of regular walking.

Key points

  • Ongoing research shows that Nordic walking provides multiple physical and mental health benefits.
  • Nordic walking works upper, lower, and core muscles in your body, while improving cardiovascular fitness.
  • People of all ages who can engage in physical exercise can benefit from adding Nordic walking to their routine.
Source: Tsippendale/Pixabay

When researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute looked at the prolonged effects of high-intensity interval training, moderate-to-vigorous continuous training, and Nordic walking on patients with coronary artery disease, they found that all three activities improved functional capacity (the ability to perform ordinary everyday tasks), quality of life, and depression symptoms in these patients. What they also found was that, unlike the other two exercises, Nordic walking not only sustains but also increases functional capacity over time.

Nordic walking uses a pair of specially designed walking poles. It differs from regular walking in that it engages the whole body, working upper (shoulders and arms), core (abdominal), and lower body (leg) muscles. It is similar to cross-country skiing and, in fact, is used as a training exercise for cross-country skiers. Nordic walking gives both a cardiovascular and muscular workout and significantly boosts calorie-burning capacity as well. It is becoming more popular with older adults because the poles also have a stabilizing effect.

For this study, 86 patients completed 12 weeks of an exercise program: 29 participated in high-intensity interval training, 27 in moderate-to-vigorous continuous training, and 30 in Nordic walking. The researchers assessed each patient for functional capacity, quality of life, and depression, first at 12 weeks and again during a week 26 follow-up. They found that all three groups exhibited positive and prolonged effects in all areas and all of these benefits were sustained at follow-up. Based on the results of a standard six-minute walking test at follow-up, the researchers found that Nordic walking increased functional capacity more than the other two forms of exercise.

Previous studies have also confirmed the benefits of improved functionality, cognition, mood, and quality of life Nordic walking has for healthy adults throughout the aging process. Both individual studies and systematic reviews of the current literature on Nordic walking have found that the addition of Nordic poles has the potential to significantly improve cardiovascular health, blood sugar, muscle strength, upper body flexibility, balance, walking speed, handgrip strength, oxygen consumption, and quality of life. This is especially true for those who regularly exercise more than once a week.

Note: If you decide to take up Nordic walking, check first with your health care provider, especially if you are an older adult or have any medical conditions. Nordic walking is a low-impact, strenuous aerobic exercise, so you want to be sure this activity is safe for you. As with any exercise, it is important to include a warm-up and cool-down period and to stay hydrated.


Tasuku Terada, Lisa M. Cotie, Heather Tulloch, Matheus Mistura, Sol Vidal-Almela, Carley D. O’Neill, Robert D. Reid, Andrew Pipe, Jennifer L. Reed. Sustained Effects of Different Exercise Modalities on Physical and Mental Health in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cjca.2022.03.017