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Work That Walk!

Posted: January 30, 2009

For healthy adults, walking is so automatic that it’s impossible to remember having learned how to do it. Yet it’s easy to pick up a few bad habits along the way that make walks less efficient—and maybe even injurious. The good news is that even patterns established over a lifetime can be reversed, reports the February issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

Ideally, by adulthood a person will walk with head erect, back straight, arms bent, knees extending and flexing, and feet striking the ground with the heel and pushing off with the toes. People's upper bodies also get into the act. Unfortunately, few achieve the ideal gait, and fewer still maintain it. Throughout time, heads may be lowered and trunks may be thrust forward. Instead of swinging, arms may dangle listlessly at the sides of the body.

Bad habits aren’t the only reason gaits go awry. A variety of health conditions can throw people off stride, too. Arthritis is perhaps the most common. Good reflexes, healthy joints, strong muscles and the vestibular system in the ear, which provides a sense of spatial positioning, all play a role in keeping a person upright. Take away any of them and balance suffers.

Following are some tips to correct bad walking habits:

  • Look ahead. Train your sights 10-20 feet ahead of you. If you need to check the ground to avoid obstacles, lower your eyes, not your head.
  • Stretch your spine. Your shoulders should be level and square. Tuck your buttocks in.
  • Bend your arms. Flex your elbows at close to 90-degree angles and let your arms swing at waist level.
  • Take measured steps. Too long of a stride throws you off balance. Concentrate on taking shorter steps, but more of them.