Nordic walking, invented in 1997 in Finland, is the newest athletic trend finding its stride in Anoka County parks.

Nordic skiers developed it to keep in shape during the off season. It can amp up the intensity and calories burned on a walk by nearly 50 percent.

Park naturalist Sherry Taplin teaches Nordic walking for Anoka County. Hers is one of several Nordic walking programs at parks and community centers across the Twin Cities.

Its simplicity is a big part of its appeal, said Linda Lemke, better known across the state as the “Nordic Walking Queen.” She is largely credited with bringing Nordic walking to Minnesota. Lemke taught Taplin and other naturalists across the state.

“You just go out your door and do it,” Lemke said. “You don’t have to drive anywhere. There is no Spandex and no helmet involved. You don’t need a gym membership.”

Walkers use specially designed poles that turn a walk into a full-body workout, engaging the arms and torso while lessening stress on the lower-body joints, Taplin said. The poles add stability and the movement improves posture, which makes people look fitter without shedding a pound.

Unlike other walking sticks that are held in front of the body, the poles used by Nordic walkers are held at waist level and used to push off behind their bodies as they stride.

“It’s all based on your natural walk and your natural stride,” said Taplin, demonstrating last week on the grassy trails around Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes. It can also be done on paved paths and sidewalks.

“Once you add the poles, you walk a little faster. You work a little harder,” Lemke said. “It has such a nice, natural fluid movement to it. It’s pretty addictive.”

While Anoka County parks officials originally had seniors in mind when they started the program two years ago, Taplin said the sport appeals to all ages, with individuals ages 35 to 50 being her largest class demographic.

Many people are looking for a workout somewhere between a leisurely stroll and bone-jarring run.

“People are just looking to be active, and this is a good fit for what they like to do,” Taplin said. “You can do it almost year-round. You don’t need a lot of equipment. It’s not expensive to do. The nicest thing about Nordic walking is you can make it as intense as you want.”

A pair of poles specifically designed for Nordic walking cost from $100 to $200 for a higher-end set but will last forever.

Lemke said she finds Nordic walking especially appeals to women. It’s very social. You can walk and talk. It’s low impact. It’s easy to squeeze into a busy schedule. And women seem less self conscious about using poles, she said.

Lemke, 63, credits Nordic walking with helping ease menopause.

“I didn’t gain weight with menopause because I Nordic-walked every day,” she said. “It helped with the mood swings. It helped with everything.”

To learn more about Nordic walking, go to http://lindalemke.com/

To learn more about Anoka County parks programs, go to www.anokacountyparks.com.