The beauty of just walking

As someone who makes a living treating people who suffer from back pain, I hear the same question almost every day: “What is a good exercise to help my pain?” 

My answer: walking.

“Walking? That’s it?”

Yes. That’s it. A University of California study compared two groups of people suffering from low back pain. The first study group did back strengthening exercises for 18 months while the other group participated in recreational physical activity such as walking.  The results of the study surprised even the researchers.  The group that did the walking experienced significantly less back pain than the group that performed the low back exercises.

My explanation of these results is in part mental. I believe that the group that did the lower back exercises viewed their backs as weak, in need of lots of strengthening in order to be out and about, while the walkers viewed themselves as fine to do moderate cardio and felt that they just needed to move to alleviate their pain.

In addition, walking is a great stress reliever and research has shown that stress is the number one cause of back pain.  Another benefit of walking is that it impacts your entire body.  So much of our day is spent hunched over, sitting.  Walking allows us to simply move our bodies and counteract the negative effects of being inactive for the rest of the day!

How to walk properly

People frequently ask me how to walk properly.  It is something that we do all the time but pay very little attention to.  Learning the proper way to walk is like any other skill—it takes time.  When walking, focus on two things: the synchronization of your arms and legs and the proper striking and “toeing off” of your feet.

Remember that when walking, you are not just walking with your legs, but with your arms as well.  When stepping with the right leg forward, your left arm should swing forward at the same time.  This motion of your arm creates momentum in your mid-back to literally propel you forward in the most efficient manner.

Another thing to observe while walking is the actual striking of your feet.  Your feet go through three phases while walking:

Phase I: The heel strike:  The point when the heel first makes contact with the ground.

Phase II: Flat foot: When the rest of your foot hits the ground

Phase III: Push off or toe off: Your big toe and then the rest of your toes push you off the ground, propelling you forward.

Hit these three phases, and you probably have a proper gait!


Posted on August 25, 2015

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