NORDIC walking is 10 years old in France and is an increasingly popular way of getting exercise, seeing the outdoors and losing some weight – more to the point it is a very social activity.
There are more than 200 marche nordique clubs and teachers in France and more than 30,000 taking part.
Sporting bodies such as the Fédération Française d'Athlétisme are working with the regional councils across France to increase interest.
The councils are interested as it is a family activity in the open air but also because it is good for seniors, the over-55s.
Many ski centres are also turning to Nordic walking to provide activities when there is no snow. There are also strong clubs in Brittany, Paris, and Alsace as Nordic walking is popular in Germany.
The Dordogne is leading the way in developing courses, helped by fitness instructor Linda Lewis, French national coach for the International Nordic Walking Federation.
She said: “It’s fun and you don’t need to be sporty. It is pretty cheap; you only need the poles or batons, which cost around e50, and a decent pair of walking shoes.
“People of all ages can take part and it’s particularly good for overweight people or those who find exercise difficult; people recovering from breast cancer, for example, need to build up muscles after chemo-therapy but get tired easily; you can do it slowly and it uses 90% of muscles.”
Tests in Germany have also shown Nordic walking provides some improvement for sufferers of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease as walking in a “more conscious and rhythmic way” helps develop new circuits that bypass the damaged areas of the brain.
Ms Lewis said: “You don’t get out of breath and sweaty but you do raise your heartbeat by between five and 17 beats per minute and you use around 25% more calories than other hiking methods.”
You can walk and talk at the same time – although one walker said you do it in groups because you feel a fool doing it on your own.
Keen walkers say they lose weight and “can drop two dress sizes” as it uses so many muscle groups.
So, how does it work? Ms Lewis said: “You need two sticks and they need to be the right length so you get the maximum benefit.
“As you walk, you lift the sticks in turn then plant them on the ground then push on the pole right through the backward motion. Rather than gripping the pole, you open and close your hand rhythmically so even your hand muscles are exercising.”
Chantal Casaurancq, from Chancelade near Périgueux in the Dordogne, took it up last year after she retired and said: “I have always enjoyed walking and was in our rambling association.
“Nordic walking is much more efficient exercise than just walking; when you use the batons you burn more calories and can walk further – yet it feels less like hard work. I like that.
“It also uses more of your muscles. It is a sport but a more relaxed one.
“Friends with back problems cannot jog but they can do Nordic walking. I would recommend it to anyone young or old.”
Ms Lewis said: “I have some clients who are over 80 but children need to be 10 or over because, as yet, no one is making small batons.”
She discovered Nordic walking four years ago: “I injured my Achilles tendon training for a marathon and the doctor told me not to run until it healed.
“So I looked at other forms of exercise then came across Nordic walking and took a course in England.
“Now I am helping develop the sport across the country as national INWF coach.”
It started in Finland as a way for skiers to exercise in summer and the INWF estimate that worldwide, nearly 10 million are regularly taking part in outings.
Ms Lewis offers discovery sessions in the Dordogne and surrounding areas and started a club in Trélissac, near Périgueux, affiliated with UFOLEP, the largest multi-sport federation in France.
To get details, contact UFOLEP at www.ufolep.org site or phone: 01 43 58 97 71.
Coaches throughout France can be found on the website www.marche-nordique.net