Nordic Style Walking keeps the tsunami survivors fit and healthy


By Sayaka Matsumoto, Japanese Red Cross, in Iwate

“Put your arms forward, bend your body down, stretching your shoulders,” cries Takaaki Fujita, a Red Cross volunteer and instructor in Nordic style walking, as he demonstrates warm-up up exercises in front of 30, mainly elderly people, who’ve gathered here from nearby temporary prefabricated homes.

Nordic style walking, a form of exercise which is originally from Finland, is not well known in Japan yet, so for the most of the people it is their first time walking with two poles in the style of cross country skiiers. Compared to normal walking it uses more muscles, eases the pressure on one’s knees, and has a better aerobic effect. “These are magical poles” Takaaki says, “for those elderly who say: ‘I can’t lift my shoulders,’ I make them bend their upper body with their hands on the poles, then you see, it has same effect as putting up the shoulders.”

One of the participants Takako Nakamura 75 years old, used to live in a two-storey house before the Tsunami, so her daily life involved going up and down steps many times daily. However, after a short time living in a one-storey temporary home, she found herself not being able to ride on the bus because she could not raise her leg up high enough to get on. .

“I thought I can’t do the Nordic style walking at first, but because my neighbors cheered me on and supported me, I could try and continue it. I feel self confidence that I can now walk this much!” she says.

Takako lost her husband after the Tsunami and now shares the prefabricated house with her elder son. Her younger son, who lives in a town further inland, has suggested she go and live with him, but she worries she might sink into dementia there, having no acquaintances surrounding her and nothing to do all day. So she continues to live in the coastal town.

Although the temporary house is so small and inconvenient, she thinks it is better to live here and look after the household while her elder son goes to work on the reconstructing of their destroyed town.

The Iwate prefectural Chapter of Japanese Red Cross has been supporting survivors of Tsunami like Takako with the Nordic Style walking since November 2011.

More than 750 people have participated in events like this one at 50 locations in 6 towns along the coastline of Iwate prefecture. “Nordic style walking is a part of psychosocial care” says Mr.Yasushi Echizen, a coordinator of this project.

“We hear many stories from the participants while we walk. It seems that they feel easier about sharing their bitter experiences with us because we are from inland,” he points out.

He adds: “When we started this project it was just at the time when people moved into prefabricated homes allocated to each family from the large evacuation centers, and some were feeling lonely, so our events were much appreciated. We will continue this project as long as the temporary houses exist here” said Yasushi with an air of determination.

Nobody knows exactly how long that will be; best estimates range between one and four years. But it’s clear that this form of exercise has become an important part of people’s lives and that’s the best argument for Red Cross Nordic Style Walking to carry on into the future.