There are lots of different forms of exercise that help to strengthen muscles, support bone health and improve cardiovascular fitness. But there’s one form of exercise that offers a multitude of benefits without overstressing the body – walking.
For many, a simple stroll is one of life’s pleasures, but walking is also a brilliant form of cardiovascular fitness that is easier on the joints than high-intensity exercises such as running or HIIT workouts.
It boosts energy, strengthens the heart muscles, lightens your mood, and it can also help to ensure that you are maintaining a healthy body weight.
But did you know that there is actually a ‘correct’ way to walk, and to maximise the health benefits of your daily steps or weekend stroll? A poor walk can have huge implications on your body, so getting it right can really set you up for a healthier, happier life.
Here are our top tips on how to optimise on your daily walk and reap the rewards.
1. Look straight ahead
It may sound simple but when you are walking always look straight ahead. Focus on where you are going as looking straight ahead will help you to keep your balance. If you are feeling unsteady, walking a little faster with a slightly longer stride length may help you to feel steadier on your feet.
2. Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed and walk tall
To ensure that you have the correct position, push your shoulders up to your ears, roll them gently back, and then drop them down. Keeping your shoulders away from your ears will help to reduce upper-body tension and muscle soreness, particularly across your upper back and neck. And don’t lead with your nose or you’ll find you’re walking with a stoop.
3. Engage your core
Engaging your core not only helps you to walk taller but will also help to protect your spine. The easiest way to ensure that you are doing this is by imagining that you are pulling your belly button in towards your spine. However, do make sure you keep breathing!
4. Use your bottom!
When you are walking on an incline let your glutes push you up the hill as these are large muscles that are often underutilised. When you make contact with the ground, squeeze your glutes to help propel yourself forward. It takes a little practice but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be away with a powerful and healthy walking technique.
5. Walk backwards
No, we’re not joking! Walking backwards engages the glutes even more effectively than walking forwards. You only need to do it for about 50m, then resort to walking forwards. This will ‘pre-engage’ the glutes so they are more likely to engage when walking forwards. The same can be said of walking sideways, which pre-engages the gluteus medius.
6. Let your arms swing
Another way to help keep tension out of your shoulders when you are walking is to let them swing forwards and back rather than across your body (again keeping you tall rather than falling forward). Arm swinging doesn’t have to be excessive but must be enough to keep you in a steady rhythm.
7. Stride length
Finding and maintaining the right stride length is key to maximising your walk. A good stride length will also mean you are not only using your body’s energy efficiently, but you are also helping to keep yourself injury-free. There is no technical right or wrong when it comes to stride length, but it should feel comfortable and natural to you and not feel too long or short or you could be compromising the rest of your stance.
8. Sturdy footwear
Your feet are the foundation of your body and poor footwear can have a detrimental impact on your knees, hips and spine. If you know that you will be walking for sustained periods of time, choose a shoe/boot that has cushioned sole and a contoured insole, which fits snugly around the heel to provide stability.
9. Enjoy it!
There is simple pleasure in taking a good walk, both physically and mentally, so ensure you get to enjoy it. Try to be present in the moment, enjoy the surroundings as well as focusing on walking well and getting the most out of the walk.
10. Consult a therapist
If you experience any persistent joint pain when walking, consult a chiropractor, physiotherapist and/or podiatrist to address any misalignment, biomechanical issues or muscle weakness. A musculoskeletal specialist can help to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide range of injuries or mobility problems that may worsen as a result of walking.
MBST has helped many of our patients return to walking for leisure, fitness and sport after an injury or suffering painful arthritic symptoms.