A Canmore business owner has hit a stride while embracing one of the latest trends in walking.
Active by Nature’s Mandy Johnson is teaching locals and tourists alike the benefits of Nordic walking – a technique she learned in 2008 while living in Ontario.
“It gives you a total body workout,” she said. “Every single stride you take, you contract your abdominal muscles. The technique is similar to cross country skiing and those are the fittest athletes in terms of aerobic capacity.”
When Johnson moved to Canmore in 2012, she realized few people had heard of Nordic walking, which began as training for ski athletes in Nordic countries about 40 years ago.
For five years, Johnson was the Alberta representative for Urban Poling – Canada’s leading provider of Nordic walking equipment and instruction. She traveled the province to train instructors, speak at workshops and support retailers.
“When I drive around town now I always see people walking with poles and, quite often, they’re urban poles,” she said. “That’s been quite a change over the last few years.”
In 2018, Johnson decided to shift the focus of Active by Nature to Nordic walking and hiking tours. The business, which she implemented in 2007, initially focused on getting people biking and walking rather than using motorized transit with Johnson serving as a walking instructor.
“I thought this would be a really unique tourism offering,” she said. “It’s different from walking and very different from hiking.”
Today, Active by Nature offers Nordic walking tours and guided interpretive walking tours in Canmore, and guided hikes in the Kananaskis country.
Even when Johnson leads her regular walking tours and guided hikes, she takes the opportunity to promote the use of Nordic walking poles.
“Nordic walking mimics cross-country skiing without the skis,” she said. “It’s a full body workout that promotes good posture, burns calories, provides exceptional stability on various terrain and off-loads stress from the lower body.”
Nordic walking is especially beneficial for people with injuries like retired athletes and seniors, as well as those who are new to getting physically active, said Johnson.
She teaches a technique that requires her clients to plant the poles, push and propel.
“You offload weight from the knees and hips and it spreads out the workload,” she said. “That’s life-changing for people with arthritis or other conditions and injuries. The neat thing about it is it appeals to all ages and all abilities.”
Johnson said the poles have special tips that absorb the shock.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for older adults and people with mobility issues,” she said. “The stability it gives you, I call it four-wheel drive for humans. It turbo charges a walk.”
Canmore is known for its extreme activities from mountain biking to rock climbing, so Johnson wanted to meet the needs of those seeking a less extreme experience.
“I see so many people come to town and you know that they would love to experience being active or experience nature, but they’re not going to be the ones hiking up Ha Ling,” she said. “This is a perfect activity for those who would love an introduction to being active in nature.”
During the Nordic walking tours, Johnson spends the first 30 minutes teaching the technique and the following hour on the guided tour.
“When I walk with poles using the technique I teach I work every muscle from my neck down,” she said. “It builds muscular strength and aerobic conditioning. Whether they’re looking to be more active or a triathlete looking to do cross training or try a different activity, this suits all ages and abilities.”
In following COVID-19 protocols and regulations, Johnson keeps her groups to a maximum of six people, enforces six-feet physical distancing and sanitizes the equipment between users.
“This has been a perfect activity with a lot of activities not available,” she said. “It’s something you can do not only on the hiking trails but on the sidewalk – from city streets to mountain peaks.”
To learn more about Active by Nature, visit: https://activebynaturecanmore.ca.