These poles were made for walking

• Carol Benson-Hitch

WITH our hot climate and kid-on mountains, you wouldn’t expect nordic walking to be a hit in WA, but it’s growing in popularity and has lots of unexpected health benefits.

The spring-loaded poles have always been a favourite with mountaineers and hill walkers, especially as they get older and need more support, but recent studies in Canada and the UK have revealed benefits for people with early on-set Parkinson’s.

Carol Benson-Hitch, founder of Nordic Walking Fremantle, says she previously helped a client in Sydney, David, who had Parkinson’s.

“Once David started with the poles, everything changed for his walking pattern,” she says. 

“He looked forward instead of down, his posture was more upright and no longer did he shuffle his feet as he could rely on the bilateral support of the poles for security.

“Not only did his arm swing return but his cadence increased, as well.

“And his risk of falling diminished. It really was wonderful to witness.”

Ms Benson-Hitch says she also ran a Parkinson’s Circuit Class while living in Vancouver, with one of the stations featuring walking poles.

“Some benefits include, but are not limited to, improved gait performance and speed, increased balance and stability, improved posture, increased walking tolerance and increased security when walking.”

The certified fitness instructor and personal trainer is no stranger to overcoming adversity – she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis aged 37.

“It took roughly a year to find the right medications for me and when that happened, I was able to return to my normal activity level,” she says.

“Exercise, for me, is very therapeutic. Whether I’m exercising in the gym or out for a walk with my poles, the physiological effects are amazing.

“I sleep better, I’m physically and mentally stronger, I have more energy and so on and so on. My outlook remains positive.”

Ms Benson-Hitch took up nordic walking in 2012, when she was working at a sports medicine clinic in Vancouver, and was soon hooked, going on to become a certified instructor.

While Fremantle may not boast any K2-style peaks, there are plenty of hills and Benson-Hitch holds weekly “urban poling” classes in the port city.

“Each week, the walks focus on improving the technique so it feels more fluid, and walkers can reap the benefits from that specific technique,” she says.

“As the weeks progress, the walkers increase gait speed, are introduced to hills and learn the technique when going up and down hills, plus we try different terrains and increase the duration of the walks.

“It’s a very fluid and natural progression each week.  All the walks are in the Fremantle community, which is lovely.”

For those who aren’t quiet up to scaling hills, Ms Benson-Hitch is starting up a new poling class at Samson Recreation Centre on March 14.

“It will be an indoor class for people with balance, stability and gait issues and for people who love to socialise,” she says. “Exercises will be done seated and standing.”

To find out more about nordic walking go to nordicwalkingfremantle.com.au

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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