Herald reporter goes Nordic walking in Falkirk

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I always knew my days as a chain boy would come in handy some day and so it proved as I picked up the sticks for some Nordic walking.

Being a chain boy is not as sordid as it sounds. In previous employment I was a land survey assistant which basically meant walking around with a pole with a reflective prism atop taking levels of the ground where a new Tesco or housing development was going to be built.

Report Scott McAngus gets to grips with Nordic walking

Report Scott McAngus gets to grips with Nordic walking

In the days before digital theodolites this was measured manually with big chains between each point – hence the name ‘chain boy’. So, while the industry moved on, the hierarchy kept the traditional monicker to put the lowly chain boy in his place whenever required.

Land survey assistants, as I like to call them, had to take big strides between the points they measured, which was usually about 20 metres, so each pace represented one metre.

So when I heard Falkirk’s bubbly Nordic walking instructor Barbara McConnell yell “Nice big strides, Scott” at me during my tuition at Grangemouth Stadium last week it took me back to the days when I had to concentrate when doing our most basic form of transport.

Although I took to Nordic walking quite quickly, at first I felt like a baby giraffe fresh out of the womb trying to walk for the first time, because you need to co-ordinate a few parts of the body to feel the benefits.

To be honest, before I did it I had visions of John Cleese in Monty Python’s ‘Ministry of Funny Walks’ sketch but it wasn’t like that at all.

Barbara, or Babs as she is known in Nordic circles, assured me I wasn’t the only one who has felt out of place on their first day, much to my relief.

“Some people just don’t get it, or take ages to get it,” she said. “I took a while myself, but once you do you won’t look back.

“It’s a 90 per cent workout for your body and it’s a great way to see a bit of Falkirk you wouldn’t normally see because we take different routes for our walks every week and it’s really growing in popularity here and in the UK.”

To do Nordic walking you need two poles which help work your arms and upper body, similar to what you’d do if you were cross-country skiing.

Your left hand stretches out in tandem with your right foot and vice versa. As you walk you touch your heel down first on the ground and roll it to tip of the toes. Babs calls this “crushing a lemon”.

So, between working the poles, keeping my back and neck straight, striding big in tandem with my arms and legs and crushing lemons, you could forgive me for losing my co-ordination, composure and pride a few times before finding my feet as it were.

But when I got into my stride I noticed the benefits straight away and felt like I had stumbled upon some kind of invisible jet stream pulling me along.

My arms and legs were both feeling the strain within a short space of time proving to me how simple and effective the exercise is.

Through Nordic walking you can burn up to 46 per cent more calories compared to walking without poles, release tension in the neck and shoulders, improve posture, strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, and reduce the impact on the joints.

The Falkirk group has built up a solid membership over the past year it’s been going with around 75 people receiving the training. Around 10 million people do it globally.

Marie Morrison (54), a development manager with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, from Shieldhill, started in October and has lost three-and-a-half stones in weight since taking it up.

She said: “I feel really good now. I’ve got more energy and my mental wellbeing is much better too. I walk regularly now and there’s other sub groups who do it outwith the weekly group.

“Apart from the health benefits it’s a good way to see all the nice views and get out into the open air. I’m eating much better now too and don’t feel as hungry as I used to despite doing more exercise.”

Nordic walking has been scientifically proven to improve both physical and mental health .

Step Forth co-ordinator and former fitness instructor Babs (50), from New Carron, said: “Nordic walking is really good for your posture, tones up your stomach, strengthens your core, tones the back, arms, legs and calfs. It’s probably about the same kind of exercise you’d get with a jog but it’s not as high impact meaning it’s better for your joints too.

“It can help people recovering from injuries and help problems that come with old age.

“It was first introduced for people in the summer who weren’t doing skiing if there was no snow, but then Finland had a real problem around 15 years ago with obesity, alcoholism and drugs, quite similar to Scotland, and introduced Nordic walking.

“The health of that nation totally changed. Children over there go to school with the poles. I’m sure if it caught on here as it did in Finland, Scotland would be a much healthier nation.

“There are signs it is catching on though, certainly here. We’ve been doing it for over a year and we have a waiting list. A couple of our walkers now want to become walk leaders too.

“It’s cheaper to do it here in Falkirk than it is in other areas of Scotland and a close eye is being kept on our progress.

“We only charge £10 for four sessions then the weekly walk is free afterwards.

“Anyone from the age of eight to 80 and any ability can do it. It’s an ideal exercise that people can easily cope with.”