Walking: The Gait-Way to Vitality Tune Up Fitness Blog » Walking: The Gait-Way to Vitality

Walking: The Gait-Way to Vitality

By: | Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 | Comments 13

I’m going to describe two different people walking, visualize them, and then tell me (feel free to yell out the answer at your computer!) who is younger.

Person 1: head forward, rounded shoulders, and eyes to the ground, Person 1 takes tiny shuffling steps. You hear his feet scraping against the ground with each step, as he doesn’t have the balance, nor the movement in his ankles/feet, to suspend himself on one leg as the other swings forward. Much of his body is rigid as he goes along in this controlled fall forward.

Person 2: Person 2’s head is lifted and you can see the full length of her spine and power from her core. She moves as though propelling herself through space. There is movement through her hips, knees, ankles, and feet. You notice a buoyancy and confidence to her stride as she freely swings her arms and finds the moments of balance as she transfers her weight effortlessly from one foot to the other.

The human gait in action

The human gait in action

If your answer is the infamous YTU “It depends,” you are correct! While Person 1 is what we might visualize as the typical and eventual image as we age, it doesn’t have to be that way! Continuing, or returning to strong biomechanics of walking is not merely a display of your physical vitality; walking (often and well) can help to offset joint degeneration, breaking hips, circulation problems, mental decline, energy loss, and low moods, all of which we usually associate with aging. In this blog we’ll explore some of the physical and mental benefits of walking, and one aspect of what is needed for proper gait biomechanics.

The most obvious physical benefit to walking is the strengthening of your entire body. Swinging your arms and the cross-crawl pattern (opposite arm and leg move at the same time) helps to tone your arms and core muscles with each step. As you can see with the gait pattern in the first image the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, plantar flexors, intrinsic feet muscles, and more are all activated through walking. The joints, specifically the cartilage, are “fed” through movement, as synovial fluid (joint nutrition) and oxygen are pumped through the joint through the positive compression that comes with walking. When we don’t move enough it’s almost like starving our joints, and you know how cranky you get when you’re hungry? Well your joints do too.

Perhaps less obvious are the profound effects of walking on bone health and circulation. Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston found in their study of post-menopausal women, that 30 minutes of daily walking reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40 percent! In another study of post-menopausal women by University of Colorado at Boulder, they found that one or two miles of daily walking lowered blood pressure levels by 11 points and lowered their risk of stroke by 20 percent.

Of course the brain and the body are intimately connected, and walking has massive effects on the mental decline that we tie to aging. “Many people are passively waiting for researchers to find a magic pill that will stop Alzheimer’s. If I told you we have a way of lowering the risk by 60 percent and it was a drug, it would be the most popular drug going.” This “drug” that Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is referring to is walking! Your hippocampus (responsible for converting short term memories into long term memory) actually grows new cells and becomes larger (Mayo Clinic study) from walking. Doidge explains that to understand why walking elicits such a response by the brain, we can look to our ancestors. “When did animals such as ourselves walk? It was usually when we had to leave the existing environment because of predators or to find food. We had to go to a new environment and, when we got there, we had to explore and learn all about it. The brain may have adapted to anticipate that when an animal goes on a long walk, it will be entering a new environment that it will explore and learn about – hence the brain forms new cells for that task.”

So the question remains: what are the proper biomechanics of gait and how can we help ourselves walk often and vigorously enough to reap all of these benefits? Check back on Friday to learn about the foundation of gait: your feet, and enjoy a great video that will help with the mobility, awareness, and function of your feet and balance.

Enjoyed this article? Read Walking from Philly…to Los Angeles


About This Author

Through her creative integration of Pilates, Yoga Tune Up, Yoga, and meditation, Sara Kay helps her clients transform obstacles into possibilities. Whether the perceived limitation is time, age, ability, etc. Sara will help you discover the strength and power just waiting to be called out of you! Her teaching combines an extensive knowledge of the body, creativity, deep connection to intuition, and a passionate spirit; resulting in sessions that are innovative, educational, and transformative. Sara continues to expand her health and healing "toolbox" with the study of Chi Gong, Reiki, essential oils, and yearly journeys to Hawaii. In private sessions, group classes, and specialty workshops students always leave feeling rejuvenated and empowered in mind, body, and spirit.

Walking: The Gait-Way to Vitality

  1. Corena Purcell says:

    I found this post to be quite informative! I am startled by the statistic of one’s ability to lower their chance of developing Alzheimer’s by 60 percent simply by walking. This is such an accessible activity with fantastic benefit. We truly don’t need to make everything so complicated.

  2. Alison Quinn says:

    I have been trying to include more opportunities to walk more in my day to day life for over a year now and it does a world of good. I can always trust that my mood will feel lighter after a walk no matter where I am walking or why. I love the fact that something so simple and uncomplicated can reap so many rewards for the body. Convenience is great – don’t get me wrong – but as a culture we take too much advantage of it and are reaping the unfortunate results of diseases of convenience.

  3. Christopher Malabanan says:

    This is a great article; especially in a society that is not very movement based. Walking is a simple activity, but with profound benefits. I encountered a yoga teacher that said he liked to watch people walk in New York City and figure out what was going on anatomically which affected the way they walked. Although a routine activity even, many people can benefit by treating it purposefully and mindfully. Paying attention to core and breath regulation come to mind for me anyway.

  4. Genevieve says:

    I’ve been walking to avoid the blues since I was teenager, thank you for explaining why.

  5. Marina Flaks says:

    When I read the post , I remembered my PhysEd teacher repeating – walk/run with your arms. At that time I thought it gives you speed, apparently not only.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Ashley says:

    I recently completed a yoga tune up workshop as part of my RYT training, and know all too well that the phrase, “it depends!” is applicable to many situations. I must admit, when I first read the post, I was envisioning the first person as the older of the two. The implication of “it depends” is a great reminder that age doesn’t have to dictate physical vitality. I’m an avid walker and I enjoyed learning how walking benefits the whole body from toning muscles in the arms, legs and core to joint health.

  7. I’ve been practicing mindful walking lately observing my muscle imbalances and noticing the difference of positioning right and left foot while stepping.

  8. Aubrey says:

    Walking is a daily activity for me. I feel awake and free while strolling, also grateful for my useful legs and feet. Our very species is designed to walk! I am going to try to be more conscious of my cross-crawl pattern during my daily walks to help strengthen and “feed” my joints more effectively.

  9. So cool, Sara! It blows my mind when I consider the forces that strengthen our bones, muscle contraction and gravity. Our health is directly related to the curvature in the space-time continuum (Einstein’s explanation of gravity). Everything is connected!
    P.S. In addition to walking, activities like taking the stairs (instead of the elevator), jumping for joy, playing tennis, and dancing also strengthen bones.

  10. Ranghild Helmberger says:

    That´s why I love walking. Very interesting I never thought, that it has such positiv impacts of my body and brain.

  11. Sharon says:

    Brilliant, interesting and informative! all the things I crave in a blog post!! cool!

  12. vanessa says:

    Never underestimate the power of walking! Awesome article, great references and examples. I particularly enjoyed learning about how post-menopausal women can reduce their risk of hips fractures by 40% just by walking 30 minutes a day. I will definitely tell my clients!!

  13. katie keenan says:

    Great article! I love to walk and my ability was greatly disrupted for a long period of time from injuries and poor medical responses. I’m finally getting my groove back and am starting to see the many benefits again. I really enjoy the education you provide, ie: the cross crawl patterns.

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