Pole walking can improve your heart function. Here’s how it works.


It is common knowledge that walking is great for you. Research shows that walking can reduce your risk of heart disease, reduce joint pain and naturally relieve stress.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in June also found that a particular form of walking may be beneficial for people with coronary artery disease: cane walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronary artery disease is “the most common type of heart disease in the United States.” The study’s findings suggest that people with the disease experienced improved heart function after committing to cane walking for three months.

Pole walking involves using poles that look like ski poles while moving. Unlike a regular walk, this form of walking incorporates your upper body muscles in addition to your lower body muscles. According to the International Nordic Walking Federation, pole walking began as an off-season workout for skiers and has been around since the mid-1900s.

For the study, 130 people with coronary artery disease were randomly divided into one of three groups. The first group followed a 12-week high-intensity interval training program; the second group followed a 12-week exercise program of moderate to vigorous intensity; the third group followed a 12-week cane walking program.

After the exercise program, the participants were observed for 14 weeks and their functional capacity – or their ability to exercise or perform daily activities that require physical effort – was tested by measuring how far they walked in six minutes.

In addition, the researchers had the participants complete a heart disease-specific questionnaire and a health survey with 36 questions. Depression levels were also measured using the Beck Depression Inventory-II, which is commonly used to measure depression after heart attacks. Participants were tested at the beginning, middle and end of the study.

Pole walking gave the best results.

While all participants saw favorable health outcomes, those in the pole walking group experienced the greatest increase in functional capacity compared to their baseline level at the start of the study.

In other words, those who committed to the 12-week cane walking program were most able to show increased exercise capacity during the six-minute walk test. And one’s functional capacity is “an important predictor of future cardiovascular events in patients with [coronary artery disease]”, the study states.

This is likely due to the upper and lower body muscle groups that pole walking activates. Using upper body strength to move and stabilize the bars while also activating your lower body can increase your heart rate, increasing your cardiovascular benefits.

Dr. Chip Lavie, who led the study’s accompanying editorial, told Medical News Today that “the addition of walking poles to moderate-to-vigorous intensity is a simple, accessible option to enhance improvements in walking capacity, increase energy expenditure, engage upper body musculature, and improve other functional parameters such as posture, gait and balance, anything that could improve walking speed.”

This is important for everyone, but especially for those with coronary artery disease.

“Consistent walking is a great form of exercise that reduces cardiovascular mortality by addressing key cardiovascular risk factors: it helps reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar control, aids in healthy weight control, and often correlates with other healthy habits and behaviors,” Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the sports cardiology center at the Cleveland Clinic, previously told HuffPost.

In addition, exercise is one of the recommended treatments for coronary artery disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Try to get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week.

GoodLifeStudio via Getty Images

Try to get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week.

Here you can see how you can reap the benefits yourself.

Singh noted that the American Heart Association “currently recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or a combination.” Walking counts toward your weekly moderate-intensity exercise count, according to the AHA.

Remember that these are the minimum recommendations – more exercise equals more results. In fact, those who go beyond the minimum recommendations live longer, studies show.

To get started with pole walking, you need a set of poles and a good walking route. Nordic walking can take place in quiet, paved neighborhoods or on rocky, hilly terrain – it’s not just for hikers on trails.

For poles, you can buy a pair on Amazon (for example, this pair has more than 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon) or from the American Nordic Walking Association. Make sure you get the right length – they should be about two thirds of your height.

Maintain proper posture by pushing your shoulders back and keeping your head straight so your ribcage remains upright and open. Use the bars to hit the ground on both sides of your feet as you walk, making sure they hit the middle of your stride. The bars should be held at an angle and you should grab the bar when it hits the ground so you have better leverage to push off. This will help you engage your upper body. Repeat as you go.

If you have coronary heart disease or other heart problems, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting.

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