Here’s something every boomer needs to know. Improving your gait needs to start now because it’s a building block for good balance and preventing falls. Why is fall prevention important? Unfortunately, falls are the number one reason older adults lose their independence. None of us want to give up our freedom or have a fall determine how and where we will age. So, let’s begin by acknowledging that bad gait habits don’t happen over night. “Gait weakness” begins much earlier in life. When we are younger we can compensate for our bad habits, but as we age, the debilitation catches up with us and presents a real threat to our healthy aging.
It’s said that in order to age well we should be walking at least 5000 steps each day. Pedometers are an inexpensive way to check out how many average steps you take daily. Odds are, if you’re an American, your not getting enough walking in. Increasing the number of steps you take daily is a great place to start improving your outlook for healthy aging.
No matter how many steps you get in on a daily basis, each one of them offers the opportunity to practice a strong steady gait. Believe it or not walking correctly takes constant practice. Why? Because we tend to get lazy with our walking and fall into bad habits. Before I share some easy tips you can use to strengthen your gait, let’s take a look at several important changes that take place in your gait as you age. A more complete list of the gait-related physiological changes that take place as we age can be found here: Gait and Balance
Age Related Gait Changes
Slower gait speed
Decreased stride length and time spent in swing phase
Increased stride width and time in double support
Decreased arm swing
Less dorsiflexion of ankle in the late swing phase with less toe clearance
Less pelvic rotation and trunk counter rotation
Less hip, knee and ankle flexion
Increased toe-out (can effectively shorten the length of the limb)
Less vertical projection of the trunk and pelvis at toe-off
Take a look at the above list and recognize it as your enemy… Now, look below for tools to defeat the enemy.
1) Practice brisk walking and resist the temptation to slow down your gait speed as you age.
2) Keep a long stride and complete a full swing through motion as the back leg swings forward.
3) Practice one-leg strengthening exercises so your not afraid when your back foot leaves the ground to swing forward.
4) Keep your arms swinging in opposition to your legs. Active arms play an important role in gait, propelling you forward.
5) Practice pulling the toes up each time you plant the heel of the forward leg.
6) Keep your hips, spine, knee and ankle joints flexible and strong through daily exercising.
7) Practice keeping the foot in good alignment and resist the tendency of the toes to push out into a “duck walk”.
8) Practice pushing off strongly and energetically with the toes of the back foot as it takes off from the ground and begins the forward swing-through movement.
9) Engage the gluteal muscles with each step.
10) Most importantly, walk with good postural alignment, keeping the spine lifted, the chin slid back, and eyes on the horizon!
A mindful approach to walking turns each step into an active exercise which tones and strengthens the entire body. So, why wait to improve your gait? Start now to reap a steady stream of benefits, investing in a bright future where you’re in command of aging with grace and independence.