Hiking poles: 4 legs are better than 2

Consumer Reports News: August 18, 2010 06:08 AM

Walking poles can protect muscles and make hiking feel less strenuous, according to a study published online in May 2010 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

British researchers had 37 healthy volunteers hike seven miles up and down Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. Going uphill, those with the poles reported less perceived physical exertion using the Borg scale, which ranks activity from very easy to very hard. More important, they reported less muscle pain and showed less loss of muscle strength for several days afterward.

The poles might be especially helpful to people with balance or joint problems. That’s because previous research, done in indoor laboratory settings, found that poles can ease the load on ankles, knees, hips, and the spine.

What to look for: Top-quality poles are lightweight with comfortable grips, adjustable lengths, retractability (for easy packing), and an antishock system to reduce pressure on your arms. You can find a new pair for $50 or more, and possibly a less-expensive pair at a thrift shop or garage sale. Or you might prefer to adapt sticks found on trails as you walk.

How to use them: Adjust the poles, if possible, so they’re comfortable for your height. Make them longer for descents, shorter for uphill climbs. Let them move naturally with the rhythm of your walking, shifting weight to them as necessary. Choose a model with a grip that fits your hands comfortably. People with hand, wrist, elbow, or shoulder problems should consult a physician before using hiking poles.

This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Consumer Reports On Health

Read more on the link between biking and preventing osteoarthritis. For more exercise news and tips, "like" us on Facebook and sign up for our Diet & Fitness alerts.

Aaron Bailey

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