It’s World Cancer Day today, an international day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. To mark it I thought I’d write about how Nordic walking can help you if you have cancer.
By way of background, I started teaching Nordic walking to people with cancer over ten years ago and established Nordic walking for the national cancer charity Penny Brohn UK at their Bristol base. I have seen first-hand the powerful and positive impact Nordic walking has had on people’s lives as they cope with treatment and beyond. I’ve even spoken to King Charles about the benefits of Nordic walking for people with cancer.
Studies have shown that Nordic walking is a safe and effective exercise if you have cancer. Here’s 5 ways how it can help:
1. Cancer related tiredness
One of the most common and debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment is cancer-related fatigue. According to the cancer charity Macmillan as many as 9 out of 10 people (90%) experience this fatigue, which neither rest nor sleep can shift.
Research consistently shows that moderate aerobic exercise (like Nordic walking) can help reduce this type of tiredness and keeping active tops Macmillan’s list of how to manage fatigue. It helps you feel better, gives you more energy, improves your appetite, and helps with your mood.
Clients who have taken up Nordic walking say that it’s an especially comforting activity. The poles act like two walking sticks, supporting them, helping them stand taller, and making it easier and more comfortable to walk. So even on a bad day they are more likely to go out, and often they walk further than they imagined they could. The fact that it’s outside is an additional mood booster and because it’s both easy and enjoyable they do it regularly, which is key to fatigue reduction.
2. Balance and joints
If your balance has been affected by treatment or your joints are sore, Nordic walking provides multiple benefits. The poles help steady you especially over uneven ground, and pushing them backward using the straps strengthens your deep core stabilising muscles, which assist with balance. Using poles also reduces pressure on sore joints by spreading the load between your upper and lower body and improving your posture. This is particularly effective walking downhill.
3. Strong bones
Nordic walking helps keep bones strong. The risk of osteoporosis can be increased as a result of hormonal therapies or early menopause for women due to chemotherapy. Nordic walking is a whole-body weight-bearing activity which uses around 90% of your muscles so (unlike swimming or cycling) can help improve bone health.
4. Breast cancer and lymphedema
If you have breast cancer studies have shown that Nordic walking is especially beneficial. It can help you re-gain your upper body strength and it can also help with lymphoedema, pain and swelling. I have had more comments than I can count from clients about how Nordic walking has improved their lymphedema and peripheral neuropathy. The arm swing action also increases the blood flow to the whole shoulder and chest area, assisting healing and increasing shoulder and arm mobility.
5. Loved ones and carers
An often overlooked aspect of cancer is its impact on loved ones and carers. This is an emotionally demanding role and it is sometimes hard to find things that you can still do together.
Nordic walking is suitable for all fitness levels and you get can just as many benefits from walking slowly as you can by going fast, so it works well as a joint activity. Learning something new together is not only a good distraction from a challenging time but is fun and rewarding in its own right. It’s also a social activity and the support given, and graciously accepted, within my Nordic walking groups was extraordinary and utterly life-affirming.
If you have cancer and are looking for an exercise to help pull you through, Nordic walking is holistic, supportive, safe and effective. At a time when so much is out of your control it can give you a sense of empowerment and progression.
If you want to start Nordic walking you will need to learn the correct technique from a qualified instructor. There will almost certainly be a Nordic walking group near you, just do an internet search or look for an instructor on the British Nordic Walking website. If you want to get started by yourself, I’ve written a book Let’s Walk Nordic, which sets out the basics and includes a special section on Nordic walking with cancer. There’s video links too – go to www.letswalknordic.com to find out more.
References and further reading
E Kessels, O Husson and CM van der Feltz-Cornelis, ‘The effect of exercise on cancer-related fatigue in cancer survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis’, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 14 (2018), 479–494, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5810532
Macmillan Cancer Support, Tiredness (Fatigue) https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/tiredness
MA Sanchez-Lastra, J Torres, I Martinez-Lemos et al, ‘Nordic walking for women with breast cancer: A systematic review’, European Journal of Cancer Care, 28/6 (2019), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ecc.13130
Cancer Research, ‘What are the benefits of exercise?’, www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/physical-activity-and-cancer/what-are-the-benefits-of-exercise
Macmillan Cancer Support, Physical Activity and Cancer (2019), https://bit.ly/3SLM2jC
If you reproduce or share any of the above article please credit me. Thanks. Vicky Welsh.