“If I had to describe Peter Harrison in one word it would be, determined,” says Sarah McCracken, a Parkinson’s nurse, and British Nordic Walking instructor.
Peter happily agrees. “Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 I have been determined to find as many opportunities as I can to try new things with the support and guidance of some excellent medical and exercise professionals. Exercise has had a liberating effect on me, and Nordic Walking has played an important part.”
As someone accustomed to an active lifestyle, Peter was looking for ways to maintain his fitness. He had the chance to sign up for PD Warrior in 2015. This became a new favourite because of its focus on movement and posture. “When physio Christine invited other Parkinson’s professionals to experience a PD Warrior session for themselves, I found myself working in a pair with Sarah McCracken.”
On one occasion, Sarah expressed her surprise at the speed Peter could maintain over during Parkrun and said that this had opened her eyes to the possibilities in encouraging people living with Parkinson’s to exercise more. Sarah adds, “Seeing how well Peter could move when he is running – something he clearly loves – was a big part of my inspiration to train as a Nordic Walking instructor and to bring that opportunity to people living with Parkinson’s.
Peter became one of her first clients – a “guinea pig”, he says – along with his wife who does not have Parkinson’s. As a volunteer for Parkinson’s UK, he encouraged other members of his Younger Onset group to learn too.
In July 2020, Sarah organised a research study into the benefits of Nordic Walking for people living with Parkinson’s funded by the NHS and the University of Nottingham. Peter comments “I was very happy to take part. It had long been clear that Nordic Walking was making an important contribution to my exercise activities and I was keen to help demonstrate its benefits through this research.”
“I wholeheartedly endorse Nordic Walking as a sport. Having been taught the proper technique I have appreciated the benefits of the extended movements and the subtle spinal rotation on my mobility, especially around the shoulders, and on my balance. This knowledge means I respect Nordic Walking as an activity much more, and as a complement to my other activities.
“Both Sarah and Alison have been excellent instructors, effective and supportive, and always make you feel that you can do it well.”
From “I can’t do that” to “Give it a go!”: Sandra shares her journey from Nordic Walking sceptic to real enthusiast
It was nearly six years since Sandra Salisbury had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s when a friend suggested she try out Nordic Walking.
“I didn’t think it would help,” says Sandra.
“In fact, I only went along to shut my friend up. But when I tried it, I just couldn’t believe the effect it had. It was like having two extra legs. It made such a difference.”
The discovery of Nordic Walking came at just the right time for Sandra. Her mobility had decreased and she was thinking she might need to get a mobility scooter to get around. And it isn’t just her mobility that has benefitted but her whole quality of life and her confidence.
The sociable aspect of Nordic Walking is an important part of the experience for Sandra. “I just love this group so much,” she says. So much so, in fact, that when the South Yorkshire Parkinson’s Nordic Walking Group needed a new chair, Sandra volunteered – a direct result of her newly restored confidence. She works alongside two friends on the small committee; they make a strong team, ensuring the group thrives and changes others’ lives as much as it has changed their own.
Sandra is keen to point out that the people in her group don’t think of themselves as people with Parkinson’s going for a walk but as a walking group with members who just happen to have Parkinson’s. The individual attention from instructors means that everyone can get the most from their Nordic Walking sessions with teaching tailored to their own needs.
An invigorating way to fight Parkinson’s: Diane shares her thoughts on Nordic Walking
Like many recent retirees, Diane was looking for enjoyable, sociable activities to fill her time. But having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s she also wanted something that would maintain her fitness and help her manage the effects of the condition.
“I already enjoyed going to PD Warrior classes,” says Diane. “And I was intrigued when a friend from that group suggested that I try Nordic Walking. It was easy to give it a go with a couple of sessions at a city park. There was no big commitment to be made upfront as the instructor provides Nordic Walking poles for beginners to use in classes.
“My Parkinson’s is in the early stages – I was diagnosed just a year and a half prior to discovering Nordic Walking – and I find exercise gives me a positive way to fight the condition, helping me with balance and co-ordination.
“I have attended ten Nordic Walking sessions so far to learn and practice the technique. I find it invigorating. It requires concentration and co-ordination to maintain the correct technique and it’s well worth it because after a session I can tell that I have had a full body workout.”
Nordic Walking is also a very sociable activity that gives participants the chance to chat and make new friends as they exercise, as Diane has found.
Diane recommends learning how to Nordic Walk with a British Nordic Walking instructor. “I was taught to Nordic Walk as part of a group and the teaching was tailored to each individual according to their fitness, skill and experience levels. By learning how to use the poles properly I can appreciate the beneficial effect on my posture and shoulder mobility, as well on the co-ordination of my arms and legs. Nordic Walking is certainly a fun way of building fitness and co-ordination whilst making new friends.”