Walking is so natural that we learn it without even being taught. However, beginning about age 8, we all start to “naturally” walk incorrectly. Why do we think this is? Mark Sisson comments in The Definitive Guide to Walking that “walking is no longer necessary for basic everyday survival. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the average person reading this blog can get by just fine without walking more than a couple hundred yards each day. Whether via buses, trains, cars, bikes, or delivery services, you’re not going to starve or die of thirst just because you don’t or can’t walk.” So it’s in part the convenience of the modern world we live in.
Others argue that shoes are culprit: high heels (probably less applicable to an 8 year old) and the soft, padded sneakers that everyone needs to have (more likely applicable to an 8 year old). “Natural [walking pattern] is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”
Why is this important? First, there are so many proven benefits to walking correctly:
Kids who walk to school are fitter than peers who do not.
Older healthy adults who walk briskly live longer than those who don’t.
Healthy adult males who engage in short bouts of brisk walking experience lower resting blood pressure and postprandial triglycerides.
Regular walking improves working memory in older adults.
Walking improves longevity in women over 70 years of age.
Walking programs improve cognitive ability in people with Alzheimer’s.
Secondly, and of much more immediate concern, is that there is a risk of injury when walking incorrectly. Next time you walk (especially if going up or down the stairs), pay attention to how your heel hits the ground. Does it tilt inward toward the middle of your body/towards your other foot? Does your knee move inward or outward? These are all signs of poor posture and can have long-term implications to your health, including development of certain types of plantar fasciitis which could lead to your doctor recommending orthotics. In the picture to the left, the correction made from the orthotic is only to allow for the foot to contact the ground in the most natural way. There is no skeletal change made to the feet by wearing orthotics, therefore the only correction is made to muscle and muscle is trainable through more and proper walking technique. Additionally, you should wear shoes that minimally lift your heel.
How do you walk correctly?
Stand erect and upright as you walk (you’ll never meet the love of your life walking hunched over staring at your phone)
Use your calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps to walk efficiently
Keep your shoulders pulled back, but relaxed
Swing your arms as you walk
Wear appropriate footwear with a low heel lift (something like Vans or Tom’s)
Adjust your daily habits to incorporate more walking: for example, take a short walk after lunch and dinner.
Pay particular attention to everything written above about ankles and knees.
Get outside and walk!