Health Hub

by Robin Gaudette

A few months ago, we talked about walking and improvements in health.

Walking is one of the most popular exercises chosen for an exercise program, by over 100 million people in the U.S. Since most of us have been walking for a few years there is nothing to learn, no coordination or need to be on a machine.

It is simple, accessible and can also be social. So walking for fitness is great…right?

It is as long as it can be formed safely and relatively pain free. Our bodies were meant to be mobile, our joints to move without restriction and muscles strong and flexible. When the body becomes restricted by stiffness, pain or injury, activities of daily living including walking become painful or exhausting.

I will offer you a few easy exercises that may help you walk with ease.

Walking is a complex task the entire body undertakes, moving joints through their range of motion, bearing weight and moving in many planes of motion. The ankle, foot, hips and surrounding soft tissue structures need enough flexibility and mobility to handle the weight transfer between legs, while propelling you forward.

The upper body — arms, shoulders and spine are needed to move in coordination with the legs for propulsion. These movements are essential to minimize stress to the feet, ankles, knees, hips, lower back and the neck while walking. When the movements work in unison, the gait is smooth and effortless.

Starting with the most important area…your feet. Routinely practice ankle mobility exercises. Flex and point your feet, bending at the ankle. Circle the feet in both directions, making as large a circle as possible.

Sitting in a chair, feet flat on the floor, place a towel or rag under the forefoot of one foot. Start at one end of the towel, for example move your toes to point to 10:00 and then slide the towel to 2:00, moving it to the side. Repeat until you run out of towel then go the other way.

Prancing is done standing, feet under the hips, lift one heel from the ground, then the other lifts as the first simultaneously lowers. Standing with feet together, move toes away from center, then heels, and so on and return to center.

Stretches to assist in knee and ankle movement include, standing straight leg and bent leg calf stretch. Hands on the wall, lean forward with the leg to be stretched behind you. If not contraindicated and you have been trained by a therapist to use a small ball for self-massage, consider rolling your feet and calf area.

Practice weight transferring with arm coordination. Keep your toes, hips and shoulders pointed ahead. Step back on the right leg and simultaneously raise the right arm overhead, step forward to starting point and bring arm to side. Repeat on the left foot.

The ability of your spine to rotate during foot placement is crucial. Stand close to a wall with the leg closest to the wall forward about a normal step. Rotate just the upper torso toward the wall, keep the head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet facing straight forward. Place both palms flat on the wall and hold for 20-30 seconds without shifting hips, bending knees or spine.

Stretches for the lower back and hip flexors should be added to round out the areas that will improve the quality of your walking exercise. Inflexibility and rigidity are not our friends in aging. Visualize yourself as something that is ever moving, flowing and reacting…like a willow tree, so that movement is smooth and pain free.

— Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org .

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