Seven Tips for Walking: Keep Your Back Healthy
Are you trying to walk 10 thousand steps every day or do you skip your daily walks? Whatever the case, both the length of your walk and your gait while walking are important. Do you know that your walk is as unique as your fingerprints or retina pattern? When the international team of bioengineers analyzed foot pressure patterns (i.e., the walk pattern) of more than 100 participants during the research named “Unique Gait Can Give Crooks Away,“ they were able to identify each of the volunteers with almost 100 percent accuracy. Thus, your walk is your unique signature, which can identify you even if you change everything else. But does it work for you or against you? (Certainly, we don’t mean anything like robbing a bank or similar). The way you hold your back, place your feet, lean your head and move your hands determines the level of pressure on your spine, the functioning of your muscles and respiratory organs. Today we will tell you about the message your walk is giving about you and how you can become healthier with each step.
What does your walk say about you?
You will possibly be surprised, but a medical professional can tell you about your medical problem (or suggest what you should pay attention to at the early stages of disease) just by looking at how you enter his or her office. Before we discuss the rules for a healthy walk, we will describe how your gait can warn you of various health issues.
If you haven’t had any injuries lately but still limp a little while walking, trying to shift your weight on the right or left leg. This can be a sign of developing arthritis or having flat feet. Another reason for that might be having one leg longer than the other. The thing is that if the length difference is slight, the body tries to compensate for it for a long time, but almost all the time, this mechanism works at the expense of your joints. As a result, they wear out faster, and you get pain in your back, knees or thighs. Finally, the difference between your legs shows up in limping.
- Slow pace
The older you get, the slower you walk. This is an objective fact, even confirmed by science. The study “Gluteal muscle composition differentiates fallers from non-fallers in community dwelling older adults” has shown that the muscles of the hips and glutes get weaker and wear out while the muscle fibers get shorter. As a result, we become weaker and start to walk slower. But what else does slow walk say about you? It can be a sign of developing osteoarthritis and other joint disorders.
- Shuffling gait
A walking pattern in which a person drags his or her feet on the floor in a sliding motion can be one of the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This dangerous disorder starts from almost unnoticeable symptoms, and the earlier you start the treatment, the higher the chances are to compensate for the disease. Therefore, if you have noticed that you or your close ones started to shuffle while walking, consult a doctor, just in case.
- Waddling gait
When a person waddles from side to side as a duck or a penguin, such a walking pattern is known as Trendelenburg gait and can be a sign of extremely weak glutes. The causes of this condition can vary from poliomyelitis to soft tissue abscess or pelvic infection. In any case, it is advisable to consult with a medical professional, especially if you have just recently noticed the symptoms.
- Cramps when walking
If you feel severe cramps from time to time while walking or running, which are literally paralyzing the muscles of the lower extremities, it is essential to turn for medical assistance as soon as possible. It could be a symptom of lung or peripheral artery disease where the blood vessels which supply blood to your lower extremities get clogged. It is a life-threatening condition, which is why it is essential to turn for medical help as early as possible.
- Stumbling gait
If you have noticed that recently you have started to stumble on smooth ground, you should check the level of your blood sugar to avoid so-called diabetic neuropathy, which is a widespread complication of type two diabetes. Those who have this condition lose sensitivity in their feet. At some point, such individuals stop feeling their feet well enough to walk, run, or jump without any problems.
- Shortness of breath
Strictly speaking, it is not exactly a characteristic of the gait, but it can be a sign of a dangerous condition so that we couldn’t miss it. If you have noticed that you are frequently short of breath even if you are walking at a normal pace on flat ground, it is almost certainly a sign of developing heart or lung disease. The causes of shortness of breath include SARS, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease. Any of these diseases are too serious to take lightly.
- Sluggish gait
Here we mean not just a slow gait but the one when a person barely moves his feet, walking at a slow pace with head and shoulders down and with stooped back. Such gate can be a sign of chronic stress or depression in absence of other visual signs of the disease. Surprisingly, the walk can become a cure in itself, as evidenced by the research “Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis,“ published in the magazine Mental Health and Physical Activity. It has demonstrated that regular walks (including situations when you make yourself do it) help alleviate symptoms of depression and reduce the risks of relapse.
How to walk right?
Wherever you go, it is essential to keep the right posture to provide for free air intake into your lungs, proper blood circulation in your body, and minimal back strain. Here are several simple rules which should be followed as you walk no matter how fast and long you go.
- Keep the correct posture
Correct posture is the core of proper gait. Stand up straight, straighten your shoulders, and raise your head. Imagine that you are a tree, so straight and firm; it is not so easy to make you bend. Imagine that you have a thin but strong rope tied to the top of your head, which pulls you up. Give in to this feeling and try to keep it while walking. Tighten your glutes and slightly suck in your gut without bending your back, which should remain straight.
- Hold your head properly
Your chin should be parallel to the ground all the time; otherwise, your neck muscles will be strained, your blood flow will slow down, and you will end up with a headache. When you walk, your line of sight should be on the level of the second-third floor buildings you see around, which would ensure the most optimal posture. Just raise your head to this position, and your shoulders and back will straighten by themselves. Most importantly, stay like this without losing your new posture and check if your line of sight is on the right level each five-ten minutes.
- Watch your arms and don’t forget about shoulders
Before starting your walk, shrug your shoulders, which will help your muscles relax. Right after that, put your shoulders back, which will provide for the most natural and healthy posture for walking. Besides, it would also help bring your arms in the right position.
While walking, your arms are as important as your legs. The way you hold your arms helps you (or at least your back) stay safe and walk effectively since you can balance your legs with your arms. Here are several simple rules:
- keep your arms bent at a straight angle.
- don’t clench your fists but don’t relax your hands too much.
- don’t press your elbows against your body, but not too wide either.
- move your opposite arm and leg (for example, your right arm and left leg) simultaneously back and forth.
- try to actively move your arms to keep your fingers from swelling while walking and support your heartbeat during acceleration.
If you keep your arms down, watch the position of your hands. Keep them little bent as if you were trying to hold a raw egg, keeping it from falling but easy enough to avoid cracking the shell.
- Watch your abdominal muscles
During your walk, the abdominal muscles support your spine, absorbing the load and protecting your back from overload. You should feel your abdominal muscles’ tension to avoid back pain on the next day after your walk. If your abdominal muscles are too relaxed, tense them from time to time. You can imagine that someone wants to stab you in your belly, and your muscles will tense up automatically.
- Don’t relax the glutes
Your glutes and hamstrings also play an essential role. Try to tense your glutes at each step as it will also help to support your back (and work out these muscles as well).
- Ensure proper walking step motion
Reach the ground with your heel, then roll your feet from heel to toe while slowly stretching your toes up. If you do everything correctly, you would be rolling from heel to toe, gently moving step by step.
You need to be trained in everything!
We start learning how to walk from a very early age. However, it turns out later that many of us need to learn again. The proper technique is as important for walking as for any other type of physical activity. If you plan to take long walks for pleasure (and it is the long walks that are the best for your health, moods, active old age, and long life), try doing it properly. Most importantly, try to enjoy each step wherever you go and whoever keeps you company.
What to learn more? Read here: