By Gill Stewart at
We are always delighted when we hear that Nordic Walking has proved invaluable in the management of a particular health condition and ensure we spread the word so as many people as possible can benefit. This month we are featuring how Nordic Walking has made a huge difference to a group who suffer from Ankylosing Spondylitis (a form of inflammatory arthritis which affects the spine and often leads to hip replacement, even in very young people)
The National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society group based at Yeovil started Nordic Walking this summer and have been pleasantly surprised at the results. Encouraged by their physiotherapist Susan Chesterman, who is based at Yeovil Hospital, they contacted Helen Gilchrist a Nordic Walking Exercise Referral Instructor after speaking to NWUK. Helen specialises in Nordic Walking and Personal Training/Physical Activity solutions for those with specific controlled medical conditions as well as general health and fitness and agreed to initially go along to an open day
To our knowledge this is the first time a NASS group (and their physio) have learnt to Nordic walk although we were aware that other Physiotherapists have been recommending it to individuals with the condition. AS also affects the chest wall, breathing and causes general pain and stiffness.Physical activity plays a vital role in the management of the condition although finding something that patients will also enjoy and look forward to is the key to maintaining that activity for optimum health. Often AS patients enjoy walking but are limited, so by adding the poles means that participants have been able to walk for much longer and on very uneven ground that they would not normally be able to do.
Nordic walking has proven to be the ideal exercise for the needs of the group, giving all the usual health and fitness benefits as well as being specific to the needs of those with Ankylosing Spondylitis where the focus needs to be on improving and maintaining:-
With Nordic Walking all of these requirements can be achieved and during a 7 week course NASS members learnt the full Nordic walking technique including hill training and interval training, on and off the road. as well as exercises with bands to strengthen and stretch the back and core muscles. They found double polling particularly helpful for opening up the chest even more and improving cardiovascular fitness and enjoyed using bands to strengthen and stretch their core and back muscles.
Helen says “Group members have reported to me that not only do they feel that they have had a good workout, but it has given them an opportunity to be more sociable. After only 5 sessions participants commented that they felt better, taller and straighter. It has made them more aware in their everyday lives about improving posture which also means the chest is more open and gets well stretched. Standing up straight can become very tiring and difficult for those with AS and the poles definitely help to take away some of that effort from the back and hips”
Results have been encouraging and here are some quotes from group members:-
“AS has left me with a curved spine causing me to stare into the ground on normal walking. However with the poles once again you are looking ahead” Paul White
” I have been amazed at how far I have been able to walk and with ease. I would have expected to feel stiff after such brisk walking, but I haven’t, I have felt really good. Can’t wait for the next session” Jean Convoy
“Clarity of tuition and individual attention builds the teams confidence and enthusiasm” John Shillabeer
“Great way to exercise and make friends too” Gill Brookes
Helen adds “By week 7, members said they felt that their legs were stronger, especially those who had hip replacements and all of the group walked 3 miles in an hour over rough terrain. The benefits of this of course being improved cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength in the legs and rest of the body, particularly with the increased stride length that strengthens the gluteal muscles”
To conclude; Nordic walking really does help to improve the health and fitness of those with AS. Members have looked forward to their sessions, rather than thinking of it as a necessity which means they are more likely to continue with it, leading to further improvements in health and well-being. In fact some of the Yeovil NASS group members are now talking about 10km challenges!
Nordic Walking UK are now working with the National Association for Ankylosing Spondylitis to ensure other groups across the UK gain access to suitably qualified Instructors. like Helen. We would also welcome any feedback from other sufferers and physiotherapists who provide exercise solutions for those with the condition. For more information contact Gill on 0333 1234 540