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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Posted on: Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keeping fit the Nordic way

 • A Parkinson's story
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Carol Okasaki-Maynard, left, and Jen Allen keep fit by Nordic walking at Ala Moana park. Okasaki-Maynard has Parkinson's disease and Allen has multiple sclerosis, but Nordic walking provides a full-body workout for anyone.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Cost: $90-$100

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Their pets first brought them together, but Nordic walking gives Carol Okasaki-Maynard and Jen Allen another reason to bond.

The exercise has helped Okasaki-Maynard, who lives in the University of Hawai'i-Manoa neighborhood, and Allen, of Waikiki, develop their friendship while building full-body strength and balance.

With their easy way with one another, a casual observer would probably guess that they have been friends since small-kid times. In fact, they met only a few years ago, at a dog park where the women bring their service dogs, Andy and Sasha.

Their self-deprecating humor and constant laughter are vivid proof that the friends have found ways to cope with debilitating conditions.

Okasaki-Maynard has early onset Parkinson's disease; she was diagnosed 10 years ago, at age 42. Allen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, at age 27.

The women say the specially designed Fittrek poles they use while walking for exercise help them keep mobile and active.

Nordic walking evolved from land-based training techniques used by Nordic skiers. Poles strapped on to the walker's wrists turn the motion into a total body workout.

Okasaki-Maynard learned about the poles from her late husband's best friend, personal trainer and massage therapist Eric Okamura of Fit For Life.

Nordic walking brought land-based exercise back into her life, Okasaki-Maynard said. (She also does water exercise daily in a pool.)

The Fittrek poles she uses are secured with a velcro strap that goes around her wrists. The curved tip on the bottom of each pole has a tread on it that helps with balance.

She has never fallen while using the poles.

"It's amazing I can keep my balance," she said with a laugh. "I can actually exercise. With a cane, it's not the same. I always felt like I was falling. With the poles, when I feel myself going, I plant them down."

Allen was only able to get around in a wheelchair before she began using the Nordic walking poles.

With the use of the poles, along with a diet suggested by the book "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Allen has lost 21 pounds in the past three weeks.

"I go out with the poles about two or three times a week. I walk down the Ala Wai in the early evenings. It helps so much with my balance, and I'm not afraid I'm gonna fall," she said.

"It's great to be out and not in my chair at home. I have a lot more energy because I'm moving," Allen said. "I really like the motion, the way it feels. Parts of my body I wouldn't normally be able to stretch, I can stretch."

Both women tie their dogs' leashes around their waists, "and just go," Okasaki-Maynard said.

While Okasaki-Maynard and Allen are keeping mobile and building muscles, perhaps it's even more important that they are building a friendship based on empathy and laughter.

While Okamura highly recommends Nordic walking for those with disabilities such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, he also uses the poles himself to kick up his aerobic workouts a notch.

"It's great for healthy people who want to cross-train and get the same benefits walking as you would jogging because you're using your upper and lower body," he explained.

"I had to quit running because of my knees, but with the poles I burn the same number of calories as with jogging. During the Great Aloha Run, I burned 10 calories a minute."

Okamura recommends the poles for those with arthritis or those who need to reduce stress on their joints.

"Studies by the Cooper Institute (www.cooperinst.org) have shown a 30 to 40 percent stress reduction to the lower body because of distributing the work to the upper body," he said.

"In addition to your legs, you are working your back, biceps, shoulders and triceps. The more aggressive you are with your upper body, the more muscle you build."