In the United States today, the average age of independent walking is ~12 months with those walking at 9 months being on the early side and those at 18 months on the later side.
We learn to walk on our own. Remarkably, no one teaches us how to walk.
Proper gait (walking style) is ranked 7th among 21 Key Health Factors for 2021. It provides proper alignment of the body, reducing stress on your bones, joints and tendons and increasing flexibility. It reduces your risk of injuries such as Achilles tendon ruptures and leg muscle strains.
So, if your mobility is not unfortunately impaired by disease or injury, how should you walk?
First, how do you walk today?
- Does the center of your chest lean slightly forward, go straight up, or lean back as you walk?
- Where do your feet point as you walk.
- What part of your feet contact the ground first?
- What part of your feet push off the ground last?
Stop reading and go walk 10 paces to find out.
What did you notice?
Did your toes point forward with your feet in parallel or outward forming a V-shape with your heels? Walking either way can be correct for you depending on your hip and knee structure.
To visualize proper gait, watch the perfect walk video from physiotherapist James Braithwaite. Start with your chest slightly forward to free up your body for movement. Swing your arms to compliment your stride. Your walking then follows.
Whether you are a parallel or V-shaped walker, the proper order of foot contact is:
- Land on the outside bottom of the heel.
- Continue contact along the outside of the foot
- Roll through to your toes
- Push off the toes to finish your step
- Your big toe becomes the last point of contact with the ground
Walking this way is important to build up your calf and leg muscles so they reduce the stress on your Achilles tendons. For full coverage of proper human movement, see Thomas Michaud’s books, Human Locomotion, the Conservative Management of Gait Related Disorders and Injury-Free Running.
For additional benefit to your feet and your health from walking, consider the benefits of high quality custom orthotics (<$200 each) in consultation with pedorthists or orthotists trained in both lower body anatomy, kinesiology, pathology and the actual fabrication of custom foot orthoses. Enhanced foot and arch support provides:
- Protection from plantar fasciitis and other painful foot injuries
- Corrected pronation and supination, reducing strain on your hips, knees and lower back
High quality custom orthotics are expensive, especially if you want pairs for each of your most common footwear. However, your feet and health are worth it.
Proper walking also involves making sure you are walking enough each day and not sitting for more than thirty minutes at a time. Movement keeps your body healthy. A National Institute of Health study of 4,840 older adults found that getting 12,000 daily steps was linked to a 65% lower risk of death over an average of 10 years. The briskness of pace did not matter. A daily walk is good for your brain too, reducing the risk of dementia by as much as 40%! Here are two useful guides to incorporate into your daily routine.
- What 10,000 Steps Will Really Get You
- Solving Sitting: A Guide to Optimizing Your Movement For Health, Longevity, & Performance
This concludes today’s article. Time to walk away, however before you do that, and as your reward for reading, check out Monty Python’s hilarious skit from 1970 about the Ministry of Silly Walks. Perhaps even come up with your own silly walk for when you want a change of pace from your proper gait. 🙂 And as an additional bit of history, see this clip from 1974’s hit comedy Young Frankenstein where Igor the humpback gestures for Gene Wilder to follow him and tells him to “Walk this way.” Gene Wilder then follows, imitating Igor’s hunched-over walking style. Of note, inspired by that scene in Young Frankenstein, one year later the band Aerosmith released their Billboard Top 10 hit Walk This Way! Eleven years later, Run DMC teamed with Aerosmith on a Walk This Way remake which surpassed the original to hit the Billboard Top 4.