Anyone who knows me knows I love to walk and hike. I'm doing my best to take after my mother; she's 86-years-old and still trekking and traveling. The photo at right is of my mother and me in the Himalayas in December 2011. My mother is healthier and stronger than most 50 year olds I know, with the endurance of an ox. One of the biggest secrets to her good health is her daily walking habit. A recent study about exercise shows that walking beats the competition when it comes to positive development in the hippocampus of the brain and in spatial memory. Walking, the activity seen as a "non-activity," by many because it appears to not be vigorous enough - is one of the best full-body functional exercise regimens you could ever follow. It is also the quintessential human movement. We are built to walk.
The way in which you walk makes all the difference.
There is an efficient (and inefficient) way to walk. A balanced, natural walk involves "cross-patterning" - the shoulders and hips moving in opposition to each other. The spine rotates gently to aid the movement of the shoulders. The hips move gently up and down, forward and back as the arms swing gently in opposite to the legs. The center of the body is upright and lengthened. You are on top of your hips, not pitched forward in front of them.
If you don't sense this kind of movement, you are working too hard when you walk. You are also likely not using your feet properly to aid in the movement. Efficient walking looks like the photo above, taken in India.
If you want to be able to climb stairs with freedom and balance as long as you live it's best to go back to the basics: learn to walk the way you did as a child - freely and effortlessly.
The first step is to learn to release and relax the muscles of the center of the body so your hips, pelvis, shoulders and back can move fluidly and easily. Adaptation to accidents, injuries, long term stress, or overtraining can create chronically contracted muscles in the back, waist and abdominals. This can result in short steps, a shuffling or a lumbering gait. Tightness in the center restricts freedom of movement and puts excessive pressure on the hips joints.
Hanna Somatic Exercises, especially arch and flatten, the side bend, and the washrag are a great place to start to learn how to regain an efficient, balanced gait. You can also read this blog post to learn an easy exercise to improve your walking and become more aware of your walking habits.
In order to not let stress get the better of us (and our muscle patterns) we need to be aware of our daily habits and movement. One of the beautiful things about walking is that you have a chance to move your entire body in a way it was meant to move and notice what you're doing. Breathe and shake off the stress. Once you can walk smoothly and effortlessly you're ready to run. It's basic. And it will keep you moving well into old age, just like my mother.
Click here to purchase my easy-to-follow Somatic Exercise DVDs.