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Walking and Parkinson’s

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Every April, the Parkinson’s Foundation engages the global Parkinson’s community to support Parkinson’s Awareness Month. 

At Nordic Fitness Ireland we are supporting the awareness campaign and talking all things walking with Parkinson’s.

Courses for People with Parkinson’s

We run specialised courses for people with Parkinson’s. Please get in touch to find out more.

Courses for groups or individuals are offered all year round.


How does Parkinson’s Disease affect walking?

People without PD do not think about their walking. Their arms naturally swing, and their feet naturally land on the heels with each step. They can walk and talk and carry bags, and plates of food without difficulty.

Individuals with PD tend to lose their automatic movements. Especially as Parkinson’s advances, it may bring with it a variety of symptoms that are uncommon in early stages, such as problems with walking (gait abnormalities) and poor balance (postural instability). Feet begin to shuffle, and performing two tasks at once becomes more difficult. Turning becomes challenging, often leading to a freezing episode and sometimes a fall.

Changes in Walking

There are many PD-related walking changes:

  • Smaller steps
  • Slower speed
  • Less trunk movement (especially rotation)
  • A narrow base of support (feet too close together)
  • Less or absent arm swing (on one side of the body or both)
  • Trouble turning
  • The feet land flat on the floor with each step instead of on the heel (can lead to shuffling and falls)
  • Festination or shuffling (quick, small, involuntary steps forward; often accompanied by stooped posture)
  • Retropulsion (quick, small, involuntary steps backward)

What Can Help Walk Changes?

Exercise is as important as medication and other therapies for managing Parkinson’s symptoms and leading your best possible life. 

Parkinson’s UK recommend when newly diagnosed that the individual takes part in regular vigorous activity. As symptoms progress the goal should be to take part in exercise that requires effort. Once symptoms are more complex, exercise should focus on benefitting activities for daily living (ADL).

The Benefits of Exercise on Walk Changes

  • Improved gait and balance
  • Reduced falls
  • Increased flexibility and posture
  • Improved endurance
  • Reduced freezing of gait

Nordic Walking & Parkinsons

Published research shows that Nordic Walking provides better outcomes compared to normal walking regarding walking speed, distance and fitness as a few examples.

Nordic Walking is a valuable exercise tool for people with Parkinson’s due to:

  • The focus on the correct gait technique.
  • Large amplitude training from the intensification of normal walking.
  • The repetitive movements drive neuroplasticity. It has been quoted that it can take approximately 60,000 repetitions until a pathway is automatic. This is where Nordic Walking can really benefit an individual, an example is trying to increase arm swing in normal gait, using the Nordic walking poles forces the client to swing their arms more. A 1km walk will result in, approximately, 500 arm swings on one side. This is a great building block as not many people would stand and do 500 reps of a single arm exercise every day, however would quite happily go for a 1-2km walk. Regular exercise and repetition of movements will strengthen neurological pathways.
  • Exposure to outdoor environments to build confidence.
  • Cardiovascular and general fitness benefits.
  • Increased stability due to two poles on the ground.
  • The coordination challenge of the technique helps to build dual tasking abilities.
  • Can improve upper limb strength as well as lower limb strength.
  • Bone density benefits from performing a weight bearing exercise.
  • The social interaction of group activities.

Want to know more?

Our classes and walks for people with Parkinson’s are lead by our instructor, Joanne, who is a retired nurse, with a passion for helping people like you get the best from your exercise programme.

To find out more about what we can offer you call or email Joanne:

TEL:  +353876936903


Additional Benefits – The Research

  • Significant increase in oxygen consumption by 20% compared to normal walking, with increased calorie expenditure and heart rate compared to normal walking.  Perceived exertion did not change with Nordic walking and the increase in cardiovascular expenditure. (Church et al 2002, Kocur et al 2009, Schiffer et al 2009)
  • Walking distance and speed have also been shown to be increased with Nordic walking by up to 30%. (Oakley et al, 2008, Breyer et al, 2010 and Mannerkorpi et al 2010)
  • Nordic walking was 106% more efficient than normal walking in improving gait speed among the elderly. (Figueiredo et al 2013)
  • Nordic walking provided a larger improvement in upper body strength, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility in older adults compared to normal walking and band based resistance exercises. (Takeshima et al 2013)
  • Nordic walking significantly improved walking distance in clients with intermittent claudication. (Spafford, C., Oakley, C., Beard, J.D. 2014)
  • Nordic walking was superior to standard cardiac rehabilitation care in improving functional capacity and other important outcomes in patients with heart failure. (Keast et al 2013)