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Proper Walking for Optimal Health

Family hikingWalking 30 minutes a day would be enough for most people to stay active and healthy throughout their life. It’s not just a great means to get around the city, it’s actually a great way to use each part of your body. Walking is a stimulating activity to all the joints : toes, ankles, knees, hips, sacroiliacs, spine, shoulder blades, even the TMJ. It’s a lot more than meets the eye.

That is, if walking is performed in a proper, energy-saving way, respecting the very fine dynamics of your body. The kinematic chains of the human body are meant to be used in a very smart, efficient way.
When we are out on the street, however, we see a lot of people walking differently. Everybody has his different, special way of using the joint/muscle connections. Could we all be right, in our own way, working with what mother nature has given us?

Probably not, and that is the sad truth. On 5 people you cross paths on the street, maybe 2 are walking following the best use of energy. 1 of them is definitely doing it wrong, the right foot keeps turning in, it looks sloppy. Another one is using only the left hip, maybe they have an injury or maybe that purse is inconvenient and she has to pinch her shoulder down, not allowing the cross action to occur in the hip. The last person is just dragging themselves along, hands in their pockets.

I see some patients who feel pain right after walking. They feel fine, they go for a walk and the hips or the lower back start to ache again. It may last a couple hours and fade away. Usually, it means something is not quite right with their gait and it is aggravating tension, increasing load on unadapted joints. This means there is something to change in their walk and it could make all the difference. Instead of getting worse and feeling more pain, walking can make you stronger and keep you healthy.

I will go over some of the basics of walking. I’ll try to build an image in your brain that you will use later, when you go post a letter (if people still do that).

The first thing to consider, is that walking doesn’t take place at the hips but in the whole body. As your foot progresses forward, the opposite arm will swing forward as-well. This forward swing of the arm is not a voluntary contraction of the biceps but more of an elegant, easy going swing of the arm AND shoulder blade. Carrying heavy bags on one side for 30 minutes will NOT count as active, healthy walking. It will do the opposite, cramping up joints, putting a lot of pressure on the hips and shoulders.

I want the reader of this short article to take one tiny key and a credit card or fiver in his/her pocket, leave the phone at home, leave the huge wallet at home and give a chance to your whole body to swing away with joy.

Following point, is the order of action in your joints. We start with a heel strike, yes, but I don’t want an aggressive heel strike. It needs to be easy, start with small steps. The second the heel gently caresses the ground, the energy and weight in your foot is moving, pushing forward. There will be a tiny little ankle/leg twist that is normal, shifting the weight from the side of the foot to the midline of the foot. Then there is the stance phase, until we get to the push-off phase. In consequence, the hip will find itself going into extension, contracting the gluteal muscles. Now this is so important to a healthy system : good strong gluteal muscles. They are your engine. And from sitting all day, they get weak and flabby. That’s why as you get older, your butt will start flatten. Horrible, right? So when you are walking, you need to use them or they will go away. As the right hip extends, creating a stretch in the quadriceps and a contraction of the gluteal muscles, the right arm will gently swing forward, using that mobility of the shoulder blade on the rib cage and even creating a bit of torque on your spine. Motion is key in those areas to maintain healthy, mobile joints.

The third thing I want to stress out, is the amount of movement happening in the toes. The feet should be much more mobile. You have so many joints in your feet allowing so many possibilities, adapting to any tiny change in the ground you’re walking on. The feet are like sensors, they feel so much. But, these days, humans wear tight, thick sole, shoes, cutting off any sensory information. That’s why barefoot walking is so much easier and comfortable (at least at home). Avoid moving the feet as one block, rather feel each joint load on pressure gradually until the foot is off the ground again.
Until people start to walk around like hobbits, investing in a supple, none restrictive pair of shoes is the best thing one can do.

These are guidelines that you can start to practice, that will improve the quality of movement in your whole body. I will, publish, however a second part to this article, to unveil more details on the movements of the ankle during gait and what to feel.

Yours, sincerely,
Annabelle Gerrard D.C.

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