Fighting Heart Disease Like the Nordics

I want to start today with a short list for you to look at...

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 

These dangerous health issues all have one thing in common... They're all linked to physical inactivity.

And the sad truth is that most Americans are at high risk of developing any of these problems because we don't get up and move enough.

According to the 2020 National Health Interview Survey, only 28% of Americans get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That's about 20 minutes a day... the bare minimum you should exercise to prevent illnesses like the ones I listed.

Of course, this probably isn't shocking to regular Health & Wealth Bulletin readers.

Earlier this year, I issued a walking challenge to help you easily get exercise throughout the day. All it takes is walking for a few minutes every hour to break up all the sitting most of us do each day.

But today, I'm taking that a step further and sharing a recent exercise craze that could help you get motivated to get moving (with the added benefit of getting you outside)...

You may have seen folks walking around with ski poles on warm, sunny days and wondered what the heck they were doing.

This low-impact, whole-body exercise is called Nordic walking. And it turns out, it's great for your health...

Last June, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology published a randomized clinical trial study that compared the physical and mental health benefits of different forms of exercise for folks with a common form of heart disease called coronary artery disease.

Researchers put 86 participants, aged 40 to 74, into one of three exercise groups: high-intensity interval training ("HIIT"), moderate-intensity continuous training ("MICT"), and Nordic walking.

Over the next 12 weeks, the HIIT group performed regular workouts that involved a series of short, intense bursts of exercise. The MICT group performed continuous aerobic exercise for 60 minutes twice a week. And the Nordic walkers... well... Nordic walked.

With Nordic walking, you mimic the movements of cross-country skiers while walking on regular streets and sidewalks. This means you carry walking poles, which you actively use with your arms and shoulders to help propel you forward. It's a muscle workout for your shoulders, arms, core, and legs all at once.

If you're having trouble picturing that, click here to watch a short video that explains the basic techniques of Nordic walking.

After 26 weeks, all three groups could walk much farther in six minutes than they could at the start of the study. But the Nordic-walking group could travel 94.2 meters, while neither of the other groups topped 60 meters.

Further benefits to Nordic walking include lowering your cholesterol, alleviating depression and anxiety, losing weight, improving flexibility, and building both endurance and muscle strength.

Another reason Nordic walking is so healthy... It gets you outside.

A paper in Frontiers in Psychology published in 2020 looked at the effects of nature on our mental and physical states. The researchers analyzed 14 studies and found that 10 to 30 minutes of sitting outside or walking outside led to:

  • Lowered heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Positive scores on mood diagnostics
  • More feelings of calmness and restoration

One study out of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found an inverse relationship between being in "green space" areas and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. In other words, people who spent more time in gardens or parks reported fewer mental health symptoms.

And a study from the Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture looked at folks who gardened and those who worked indoors. They found gardeners had significantly lower levels of cortisol. Remember, cortisol is our stress hormone, so higher levels mean more stress and more damaging inflammation.

Spending extended time outside also helps improve our sleep patterns. Exposure to natural light promotes better, deeper sleep. It's especially important as we experience shorter daylight hours in the fall and winter, but we can enjoy this benefit all year round.

It's one of the reasons I spend time walking outdoors every day. It's a great combination of benefits: I get to move more, get vitamin D from the sun, and soak up the calming effects of nature.

Give Nordic walking a try. And whether you're doing it Nordic style or not, remember to do what I do and aim to walk for at least 20 minutes every day.

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 29, 2023

Editor's note: Our offices are closed Monday, January 1, for New Year's Day. You'll receive your next issue of the Health & Wealth Bulletin on Tuesday, January 2, 2024. Have a safe and happy New Year!