The surprising benefits of walking backwards – 05/25/2023 – Equilibrium

The surprising benefits of walking backwards – 05/25/2023 – Equilibrium

Walking is a form of exercise that doesn’t require special equipment or a gym membership – and best of all, it’s free.

It’s something we tend to do automatically. And, precisely because it does not require conscious effort, many people do not remember the benefits that walking offers to health.

There is a way, however, to get off autopilot and challenge our brains: by walking backwards. In addition to requiring more attention, changing direction can also be beneficial to the body.

A daily walk can provide a host of health benefits – even for those who don’t exercise regularly. And it can be computed within the 150 minutes of weekly aerobic activity recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although we do this automatically, the process is more complex than most people think. Standing up requires coordination between our visual, vestibular (those associated with movement, actions like turning or moving quickly) and proprioceptive systems (related to being aware of where our bodies are in space).

When we walk backwards, our brains take longer to process the additional demands of coordinating these systems. And it’s that higher level of challenge that can be advantageous to the organism.

One of the best-studied benefits of walking backwards is improved stability and balance in the body. Doing the activity can help us improve our normal gait (i.e. forward) and, in a balanced position, can help both healthy adults and those with knee osteoarthritis.

Walking backwards, we take shorter and more frequent steps, which improves the strength of the leg muscles and reduces the load on the joints.

Changing the pace or incline – going up and down – can also change the range of motion of joints and muscles, offering relief from the pain that accompanies problems such as plantar fasciitis, one of the most common causes of heel pain.

The change in posture that walking backwards requires makes the body put more demands on the muscles that support the lower back. In this sense, the modality can also be a particularly beneficial exercise for people with chronic low back pain.

The technique has even been used to identify problems related to balance and walking speed in patients with neurological problems or who have suffered a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) – and it has helped in the treatment.

Higher energy expenditure

Research on the subject has identified benefits of walking backwards that go beyond the therapeutic. Studies point out, for example, that the technique can help the body lose weight faster.

The energy expenditure with the change in step direction is almost 40% greater than when walking at the same forward speed: 6.0 meters, against 4.3 meters. “Met” is the English acronym for metabolic equivalent, which measures the amount of oxygen consumed while at rest.

Another study showed reductions in body fat in women who completed a six-week backwards walking or running training program.

Although the technique has been researched more as a rehabilitation tool, it increases the strength of the muscles that support the knee – which not only helps prevent injury, but also improves the body’s performance.

If the modality starts to get too comfortable, it is possible to increase the challenge level by using weights. Lifting the load places more strain on the knee extensor muscles, while putting a lot of strain on the heart and lungs in a short amount of time.

With light weights, this type of exercise can produce an adequate level of resistance to encourage significant improvements in lower body strength.

Among young athletes, the use of weights that correspond to up to 10% of body weight can improve “sprint” times (sudden increase in speed in a short period of time).

How to begin

Walking backwards is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So how do you incorporate modality into your exercise routine?

As there is a risk that possible obstacles – which can make us trip or fall – go unnoticed, for safety reasons, it is better to start indoors, where you know you will not bump into something or someone. Another alternative is to do this in an open, flat space.

Resist the temptation to squirm and look over your shoulder. Keep your head and chest up as you extend your big toe back with each step, moving your foot from the toes to the heel.

Once you’re more confident, you can pick up the pace and even transition to a treadmill, using the grab bars as often as you see fit.

If you decide to use weights, start with a light load. Focus on doing several sets rather than running long distances – you can start with 20 meter stretches, always paying attention to the quality of the technique.

This article was originally published on the academic news site The Conversation and republished under a Creative Commons license. Click here to read the original version (in English).

This text was published here

Jack McNamara is Professor of Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of East London in the UK.

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