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This week’s walk, from the book 52 Ways to Walk, intrigued me. I’ve experienced issues with my walk since my toddler days.
I toe in, a condition that others jokingly called “pigeon toed” during my childhood. As a tiny tot barely mobile, I wore braces on my feet at night, in an attempt to point my feet outward rather than inward. They didn’t work, because it’s a hip/leg connection problem, not a foot one.
I broke my right leg twice and surgery removed a benign tumor from that same leg, all by age five. Those incidents required hip to toe casts and later a walking cast, which severely hampered my activity level for a while.
And a serious car accident in my late 30s injured my low back and began a 20 year journey of unrelenting pain, stiffness and inflammation in my back and legs. Eventually, I used a cane to walk and faced the prospect of using a wheelchair. Thankfully, a plant based lifestyle ended the pain and inflammation and greatly reduced the stiffness in my legs.
All of those situations throughout my life has left me with a walk that is less than perfect. Although I’ve accepted my unique stride, I welcomed the challenge to be more mindful as I walk.
This Walk #2, Improve Your Gait.
Improve Your Gait
After Canadian scientists studied 500 walkers, they came to a startling conclusion. With a 70% accuracy, they were able to identify which walkers had early cognitive impairment, just by watching their gaits.
Their findings agree with earlier studies. Our walking gait, at age 45, can predict our chances of getting Alzheimer’s. The takeaway: how we walk provides a hint about the health of our brains. The question scientists are still studying…does gait affect the brain? Or does the brain affect the gait?
The Long Term Effects of a Sedentary Life
One of the factors contributing to cognitive decline and the need to improve gait is a sedentary lifestyle.
We sit for long periods of time, so much more than our parents and grandparents did.
Our bodies lose strength, balance and flexibility due to hours hunched over a laptop followed by evenings camped out on the sofa. For some women, add in tight, ill fitting albeit fashionable shoes with high heels and our feet suffer.
Those bones, muscles and joints in the feet get out of whack, tighten up and lose the ability to walk gracefully and smoothly.
Sports scientist Joanna Hall also believes that a sedentary lifestyle affects HOW we walk. Sitting for too many hours every day shortens and tightens the hip flexor muscles and encourages the abdominal muscles to slacken.
Leaning over computer keyboards forces the neck and head forward, unnaturally, restricting back muscles and tightening the spine. And poorly fitting shoes cramp toes and stiffen the joints and muscles of the feet, causing us to walk with a flat plod that Joanna calls a passive foot strike.
So is it important to improve and correct gait, even if we’ve been walking since age one? Yes!
Tips to Improve Your Gait
Joanna, who works with people helping them with gait, recommends relearning how to walk properly to avoid injury and joint pain and to enable us to walk faster and for longer periods of time.
Her tips include:
Pushing off from the back foot, using the muscles in the back of the legs.
Rolling through each foot, from heel to toe, using the toes to power us forward.
Lifting the ribcage and lower back to strengthen abdominal muscles and create space in our core.
Lengthening and straightening the neck which frees the spine to move as we walk while relieving stiffness in the neck and shoulders from hunching over a desk or computer.
Swinging arms freely from the shoulders as we walk. Hands should be relaxed, not curled into fists.
Look 10 to 20 feet ahead and use the eyes to look downward, not the head.
And swivel hips slightly, which boosts power to the stride. Focus on shorter steps, so as not to overextend the legs, however take more steps.
Wear properly fitting shoes.
Improving My Gait
Walking comfortably is important to me, as is endurance. When I travel I love to walk all over a city or area, exploring and taking photos, learning the history of the location and getting a feel for the culture.
An improved gait helps create a smooth walk and also increases the ability to walk faster, longer and farther. This is exactly what I desire.
For the last week, I’ve mindfully noticed how I walk. I’m implementing the tips, one by one, noting how an improved gait feels.
As this chapter in 52 Ways to Walk suggests, ingrained poor walking habits can shift, with “a little work”. I’m discovering this is true.
Improving my gait felt a little awkward at first. And seriously, my legs muscles became sore. That means I’m using muscles in different ways than I did before.
Overall, I like what I’m experiencing. I stand taller. I’m more mindful and aware. As my leg muscles adjust to my improved gait, they will grow stronger and perhaps, less stiff.
I’m excited to see how I’m walking…and feeling…in a month.
Pick Up Your Copy of 52 Ways to Walk
If walking provides an important form of exercise and relaxation for you, in all kinds of weather, then this book is for you!
The activities are so varied and the information in each chapter is well presented and motivational.
I appreciate that the book contains a full year of weekly walks. You can read about my first walk from the book HERE. And my Walk in the Cold at this LINK. I intend to continue selecting different walks from the book.
Have you ever consciously thought about your gait and the way you walk?
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.