As a physiotherapist, everyday I teach people how to walk. I don’t work in stroke rehab but rather with a healthy, functional group of clients otherwise unaware of how best to put one foot in front of the other. I see people of all shapes and sizes, ages, fitness levels and genders that have less than ideal ways of getting around.
Everyday I am told by clients that they have been doing it their way for a lifetime and that they can’t change.  Happily, I get the satisfaction of disproving this notion again and again.

Hippocrates (aka ‘the father of western medicine’) said ‘walking is man’s best medicine’ but perhaps that comment needs to come with a caveat. The updated version could read ‘walking properly is man’s best medicine’.  Then again, that caveat probably wouldn’t have been relevant in ancient Greece as it is today.  Walking would have been walking and that is that.

We can all benefit from analysing our gait.  Our bodies have adapted to their most frequently used shapes (e.g. sitting) and as such, the way we walk is invariably not the way we evolved to walk.  By making some minor adjustments we can start to use our muscles with each step creating more joint stability and a more efficient gait.

‘Gait’ describes the pattern of how we walk; it is the nuances of our gait that can make us recognisable from a distance (I know I can spot my father-in-law walking down the beach from a mile away).

Gait is a complicated subject but these guidelines will get you started on the road to better movement.

Try these 5 gait guidelines to better walking and better health.

  1. Softer steps
    • If your friends and family can hear you stomping down the hallway then this one is for you! The harder you hit the ground the harder the force is returned into your joints. Newton taught us that to every force there is an equal an opposite force. Walk mindfully and tread lightly.
  2. Don’t overstride
    • Shortening your stride and softer steps go hand in hand. Shortening your stride by 1-2cm is often enough to decrease the impact force through your ankle, knee, hip and spine
  3. Feel your butt
    • Is your butt working when you walk? Don’t forget the difference between movement (read wobble) and activation. I am not asking you to walk around all day with your hands on your butt! In the privacy of your own home check for wobble versus working; if there is more wobble then try guideline 1 and 2 and feel the difference.
  4. Set your arms free
    • If you constantly have a handbag thrown over your shoulder or a briefcase in one hand then you are unwittingly affecting your gait. Lighten your load, alternate on which side you carry and let your arms swing naturally by your side.  This is crucial to allowing rotation and counter rotation through the body
  5. Mix it up
    • Get outdoors, walk uphill and down dale, find different surfaces and don’t just plod away for the same distance at the same pace each and everyday.