Walking the walk

Walking the walk

At work we have a ‘healthy living’ initiative – we’ve been offered taster sessions in bootcamps, yoga, meditation and a few other activities. I had not taken part in any until the offer of a lunchtime Nordic walking class caught my eye.

I’d never tried Nordic walking before but it reminded me of skiing a la Arctic, so I signed up. Yesterday I had my first class, my colleagues had their first class too as they reluctantly joined me!

After setting up our poles and leaving the safe environment of our office, we went walking along More London, in front of school children, businessmen and women having their lunch and many tourists. 8 of us walking along the Thames with our poles, in our work clothes created some curiosity and generated a getting a few odd looks. The somewhat predictable comments of ‘the mountain is that way’, ‘there is no snow around here love’ were making me chuckle.

To be honest, I didn’t really care about who was looking or what people were saying as I saw this as training, plus I’ve had my fair share times when I’ve looked silly over the years (attempting to ski this year, running across a road in heels and falling over, sitting on a fence and falling off etc) so I got on with it.

Nordic walking has many benefits:

  • It uses 90% of the skeletal muscles
  • It burns up to 46% more calories than ordinary walking
  • It reduces the pressure on knees and joints
  • It is great for the Heart and Lungs
  • It is good for neck, shoulder and back problems
  • The poles propel you, making it easier to move faster then normal without feeling the effort
  • It is one of the most effective cross training techniques for athletes and sportspeople who require ultimate cardiovascular and endurance conditioning (perfect for a polar explorer!)

Nordic walking reminded me of the Arctic and I loved it. The poles are attached to your hands with a glove and because you are attached you become more relaxed (it’s impossible to drop the pole).  This type of walking really does propel you; the use of the poles encourages you to stand up straight (correcting bad posture) and you walk with purpose. Your arms need to be between 40 and 60 degrees when you walk, therefore you kindof throw your arm forward to plant the pole on the ground.

You might not think that walking could give you a good workout, especially if only for an hour, but Nordic walking works your upper body as well as your legs. I also felt completely relaxed and calm afterwards, which I definitely was not before I started. You could say it’s therapeutic.

I’ve two more taster sessions booked, and I’m thinking that I might buy a set of Nordic poles to make myself look even sillier when I’m training this winter pulling a tyre around London, pretending it’s a pulk.Image

Ursus maritimus

Image

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ursus

Species: U. maritimus

I am going to the Arctic, it’s going to be very cold and I am going to see Ursas maritimus aka the polar bear.  The polar bear has a few names; the great bear, the white bear, the sea bear, the white sea deer, the ice bear or even God’s dog. These names depend on where you are in the Arctic.

My personal favorite is the sea bear.

I have never seen a polar bear; I’ve seen images online, video, and when in Svalbard I saw a stuffed one.  This animal intrigues me and I want to know more about it, but … it also scares the living daylights out of me. We will be counting bears on the expedition or, as Arctic Andy calls it ‘polar bear twitching’.

The sea bear live in the most extreme of environments, they can kill you and they have become a symbol for climate change. If the ice melts the bear will suffer, along with every other species on the planet.

I have been given a ‘Polar Bear manual’ which looks at the characteristics and behaviour of the bear, and what to do if we see one on expedition. I have also spent a lot of time online learning about the bear, and giving myself the fear! I am excited about going to the Arctic and having the opportunity to see the sea bear in its natural habitat but, my gosh, I’m hoping that I don’t come too close.  They are quite frankly, pretty darn scary, but they look cute….

The polar bear:

  • Polar bears are only found in the Arctic
  • Their hair isn’t actually white. Each hair shaft is made up of hollow fibers and pigment free – this allows the hair to scatter and reflect the visible light.
  • The adult male can weigh over 700 kg and reach a height of more than 1 metre at the shoulder!
  •  The adult female (or sow) is an average weight of 300 kg.
  • They are fast and can run up to 40 kph over short distance.
  • There are 19 sub-population of polar bear in the Arctic but we only know about 5.
  • A pregnant female bear goes into a den in the autumn after feeding heavily in August and September. She will emerge in March or April, just in time for our expedition.
  • The male bear patrols the Arctic, hunting for food, all year round.
  • A team of slow Homo sapiens, skiing over the ice might look like a tasty meal.
  • Their diet of Ringed seal means they need to be close to the ice when they emerge from their den with cubs…. but the ice is breaking up.
  • Their paws measure up to 12 inches across and help distribute weight when treading on thin ice.
  • And finally, a claw can measure over 2 inches long!

If you want to know more about Ursas maritimus I recommend taking a look at Polar Bears International – they have lots of useful information on their website. The WWF, the Polar Bear Trust and Live Science also offer expert information.

p.s I can’t remember why the genus and species has to be written in italics but I’d love someone to remind me … my biology A Level days feel like some time ago.

p.p.s the image with this post is from my new favorite t-shirt 🙂