Almost everyone involved in physical fitness will tell you that walking is helpful in losing weight and firming muscles.
Then there's Nordic walking - fitness walking with specially designed poles.
It burns 40 percent more calories, according to Laura Jones of Knoxville's River Sports Outfitters. She discussed the effectiveness of it during the recent Dogwood Festival.
A Morristown native who attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Carson-Newman College and earned a master's degree in exercise physiology at Tennessee, Jones gave an example of Nordic walking's effectiveness.
"We taught some people at Baptist (hospital in Knoxville) actually to do the half-marathon with Nordic walking poles," she said. "We had one guy who lost 58 pounds in three months, which is spectacular."
The lightweight poles she used were made of carbon. Others are made of lightweight aluminum or composite materials. They offer a lot of strength.
"Don't worry about breaking them," Jones said. "I can stand on them and they won't break."
Fingerless gloves are connected to the tops of the poles. An easy snap system makes it possible to disconnect the hands from the poles when the user needs to adjust a backpack or get a drink of water or food.
Nordic walking is like moving with an extra leg. The poles are durable enough to hike rugged trails as well as pavement or concrete. Rubber tips at the base are intended only to reduce noise. They can be removed for hiking on non-paved trails, allowing carbide tips at the lower end to strike the more rugged terrain.
"Nordic walking came from the Scandinavian countries," Jones explained. "They wanted something to do in the offseason when they weren't cross-country skiing, so they developed Nordic walking."
It slowly found its way to the East coast of the United States. Today, it's especially popular in Western states including California and Washington, she said.
The activity has also been called hill bounding and ski walking.
In 1997, according to an Internet source, a Finnish ski pole manufacturer named Exel established trademark walking poles. "Nordic walking" has been the popular outgrowth.
One big difference to regular cross-country poles is that the Nordic poles are much shorter. Centimeter markings make them adjustable to the height of the walker.