Anybody who’s watched Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments knows walking sticks have been around at least since the days of Moses. I suppose a staff was essential on the type of terrain he traversed, and it no doubt doubled as a self-defence device when confronted with wild animals or plagues of locusts. In Moses’ case, it came in handy for parting the sea and such, too.
Nowadays, we rarely see folks carrying any type of stick when they walk, and if we do, we consider them old and infirm. Most will wait a long time before surrendering to the assistance of a cane, as if it’s a source of shame. The stick has become a stigma.
There’s a healthy new fitness fad a-brewin’ in Portage la Prairie that, ironically, could postpone the need for a cane indefinitely. If you’ve been to larger cities, you may have seen a lot of it already. It’s called Nordic Walking, Exerstriding, or Pole Walking—not to be confused with pole sitting, pole vaulting, or (Heaven forbid) pole dancing.
Portage’s Cyndi Toews, a certified instructor with the Canadian company Urban Poling, treated me to a free lesson. Cyndi explained how walking with poles exercises 90% of your muscles and burns 20-46% more calories than regular walking. It strengthens your back and engages your core muscles when the proper technique is used. It reduces wear and tear on your hips, knees and ankles, which makes it an excellent exercise for those with arthritis.
The lesson was more involved than I expected. You have to get your rhythm down, hold the poles at the correct angle, pump those arms for maximum benefit, keep your rib cage lifted and your tummy tucked, and make sure the poles' “boots”—which actually look like little Barbie-sized ski boots—stay out of your line of vision. Never having been the athletic sort, I found it a lot to remember.
But Cyndi is a terrific teacher. She told me I caught on quickly and we had fun patrolling the streets surrounding her home together.
So what’s not to like? Well, I’ll tell you. Pole walking is not for those of us who are chicken-hearted enough to care what random passersby think.
Which may sound strange coming from someone frequently seen walking to work in a skirt teamed with runners and a 15-year old backpack. But even I have my standards. Walking down a city sidewalk on the level prairie in the heat of summer carrying two ski poles just looks flat-out ridiculous. I might handle the humiliation with an equally silly-looking partner, like I did for my lesson in Cyndi’s neighbourhood, but I’m not much of a trail blazer.
So, this is my appeal to all you trend-setters out there. Pick up some poles and start walking, so cowards like me will swallow our pride and follow suit. We’ll all benefit.
I can’t guarantee you’ll part the Red Sea, but your body will thank you.