The World Heart Federation and a Finnish company Exel Sports Oy, a leading producer of high-end products for sports poles, are launching joint World Heart Day activities aimed at increasing awareness of the need for regular physical exercise to prevent heart disease. These activities are carried out in the co-operation with the International Nordic Walking Association INWA. Joint events will focus on communities teaming up to Nordic Walking as an easy and practical form of exercise that can be integrated into active daily life.

Heart disease and stroke is the world's largest killer, claiming 17.5 million lives a year. Eighty per cent of these lives are from populations in low and middle income countries, many amongst people of working age. A healthy diet and quitting smoking can prevent heart attacks and stroke. Regular physical exercise is also vitally important as it reduces the risk of stroke by over 25%1 and the risk of coronary heart disease by over 40%2. Currently, 60 to 85% of women worldwide, for example, are not physically active enough to gain health benefits3.

Physical inactivity contributes significantly to obesity, diabetes and hypertension. The heart is a muscle which needs regular exercise to keep it pumping blood efficiently with every heart beat. Regular activity and its impact on associated risk factors helps to slow down the narrowing of the arteries to the heart and brain, encourages the body to use up excess stored fat, can help to reduce high blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels (by increasing the high density lipid (HDL) level) and maintains normal blood glucose levels.

Nordic Walking was first used as a summer training method by cross-country skiers in Finland. It was then developed into a fitness exercise with specific training equipment in co-operation with the Finnish sports equipment manufacturer Exel Sports Oy, researchers in sports medicine, and other fitness professionals. Nordic Walking is an enhancement of regular walking using specifically designed poles to engage the upper body during fitness walking and to create a complete body workout. It is natural, safe and effective physical activity suitable for all. Nordic Walking increases heart rate by 5-17 beats per minute (in normal walking, heart rate is 130 beats/minute and in Nordic Walking, 147 beats per minute, an increase of 13%) and energy consumption by an average of 20% compared with ordinary walking without poles4. Nordic Walking was first launched in Finland in 1997. It has rapidly increased in popularity and today Nordic Walking is one of the fastest growing outdoor fitness sports.

World Heart Day, now in its eighth year, is run by the World Heart Federation's member organizations in over 100 countries. This year's World Heart Day, taking place on Sunday 30th September under the theme "Team Up for Healthy Hearts" encourages people to join together and create heart-healthy communities. Communities ��" from families to schools, social groups, workplaces and religious circles - can encourage smoke-free environments, regular physical activity and health food choices. As well as Nordic Walking events, other World Heart Day activities will include health checks, organized walks, runs and fitness sessions, public talks, stage shows, scientific forums, exhibitions, concerts, carnivals, and sports tournaments.

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About Exel Sports Oy

Exel Sports Oy, based in Finland, is one of the leading producer of composite high-end products such as poles for Nordic Walking, cross-country skiing, alpine, trekking and sports accessories. Exel Sports is a subsidiary of Exel plc. Group, which has internationally 600 employees and turnover of 112,4 million Euros (2006).

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About the International Nordic Walking Association (INWA)

The International Nordic Walking Association INWA was established in Finland in 2000. INWA is the only international organization authorized by the creators of Nordic Walking to promote, develop and safeguard the principles and characteristics of Nordic Walking worldwide. In co-operation with professionals in sports, health and fitness, INWA develops innovative teaching methods and educational programs in Nordic Walking. INWA also collaborates with the scientific and medical communities offering research guidelines. At the end of 2006, INWA had 17 official member organizations and INWA Nordic Walking Instructors have been certified in nearly 40 countries around the world.

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About the World Heart Federation

The World Heart Federation is a nongovernmental organization based in Geneva Switzerland dedicated to the prevention and control of heart disease and stroke, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. It is comprised of 195 member societies of cardiology and heart foundations from over 100 countries covering the regions of Asia-Pacific, Europe, East Mediterranean, the Americas and Africa.

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1 Hu G et al. Stroke, September 2005; 36 (9): 1994-9.
2 Tanasescu M et al. JAMA 2002 October 23, 288: 1994-2000.
3 WHO, Information sheets:" Sedentary lifestyle: a global public health problem", who.int
4 Church, Earnest, Morss. Field testing of physiological responses associated with Nordic Walking. Res Quart Exerc Sports 73;296-300, 2002.

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