Have you ever seen people ski-walking at your local park? That is – walking briskly with ski poles in hand, but no skis in sight? Well that, my friends, is Nordic Walking!

It may look funny, but it’s a great low-impact, full-body workout, especially good at strengthening the core and upper body while being easier on hips and knees than straight-up walking. It’s well-suited for older adults and individuals who may have mildly lessened mobility, who could use the extra push of the poles.

Nordic Walking: a great Recreation Therapy intervention for a wide range of client ability

The specially-designed Nordic poles propel the individual forward and they actually end up using 90% of their body’s muscles (instead of 50% while walking sans poles) and can walk much faster than normal. It also increases balance, improves confidence, reduces joint stress, decreases pain, and improves range of motion and gait speed.

Nordic Walking utilizes up to 90% of the body’s muscles, labeled here

I was recently certified as an Urban Poling Nordic Walking Instructor through a Canadian company called Urban Poling Inc. They sell poles as well, including an ACTIVATOR™ Pole that is specially designed with more support for individuals post-hip/knee surgery, persons with Parkinson’s, stroke, MS, chronic pain, spinal conditions, or who just require more stability. This is great news for Recreation Therapists, as our client populations can be incredibly diverse with varied needs!

Participants showing how poles can be used for stretching and upper body exercises too

The poles can also be used as a tool for other exercises with clients, like stretches and arm-centric or overhead movements.

Check out my program guide below for introducing your own therapeutic Nordic Walking program – as long as you’re certified, of course!

Programming Considerations

  • Small and medium-sized groups are ideal, but most important is that every client has eyes on them for safety
  • Because this is exercise therapy, having a 12-week program of 1-2 sessions per week would be ideal, so that clients could reap the health benefits of regular walking
  • Depending on the clientele, likely 30-60 minutes per session

Goal Areas

  • Physical mobility and coordination
  • Enhanced mood
  • Self-efficacy and confidence
  • Lessening dependency on medication
  • Increasing social interaction


  • Nordic Walking poles (great brand is Urban Poling), note: more stable poles needed for less mobile clients
  • PAR-Q assessments
  • Extra water bottles
  • Sunscreen and first aid kit
  • Heart rate monitors, if desired


  • Program is best for fairly mobile clients able to function within a group
  • Not recommended for walker & two-cane users or those with severe arthritis, acute cardio pulmonary conditions, etc.


  • One-on-one sessions to start for less mobile or less social
  • Clients can start just dragging poles to get into rhythm
  • Poles themselves provide height adaptations




Program Idea: Nordic Walking