Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall Into A Habit Of Walking

This morning I had some unscheduled time. So after my husband and I got the kids fed, dressed, packed and walked to day care and after I responded to some emails, I was faced with the following choices:
a) do some bookkeeping
b) get some study time in for my Whole Body Alignment course so I get closer to my goal of being a Restorative Exercise Specialist
c) write a blog post to share a bit of what I'm learning in the just mentionned course
d) walk to the store to buy new woodchips for our guinnea pig so he can get a fresh house today

Bookkeeping is boring. So this was out from the start. Since the pig's house was in a stinky state and the sun was shining and walking is so good and walking in alignment practice is part of my course, I decided to put my shoes and backpack on and go for a little walk. Mind you the store is only 800m away from our house. So walking back and forth is a mere 1,6km. With our morning walk of 2km to and from day care I'm at a whopping 3,6km. Plus 2 more km when we pick up the kids later this afternoon. 5,6km. 3 miles. Not all that bad. And good decision making, right!

Walking the way we are biologically supposed to, i.e. in alignment involves half of the over 600 muscles in our body. And the more muscle we use, the more blood those muscles can pump into more areas of our body and thus the more cell regeneration occurs. More cell regeneration = more health. And we really are supposed to use our body in a way that gives us the most chance of survival, i.e. health.  (In the past, I wrote a little bit out what our sedentary life style does to our immune system).
So what is walking in alignment? This is what I'm learning from Katy Bowman, biomechanist, in the course I am taking. It should not involve bent knees or bouncing hips or powerwalking arms (read an article from Katy herself). Natural walking should also not involve shoes with a positive heel. Even the regular running shoe has a positive heel, i.e. inside the shoe the natural heel of your foot sits higher than the ball of your foot (read a rather lengthy scientific essay by Dr Rossi about why shoes make proper gait impossible). So for us shoe-wearing, chair lounging and asphalt walking people, it's actually really really really difficult to walk naturally. And I'm nowhere near it.

I want you to start appreciating a walk and encourage you to start walking on a regular basis. And to walk with your kids. Our kids are now 3 and 4,5 years old. We always walked the 1km to our day care but finally banned the stroller this spring. The first day was tough and maybe the second too. I don't remember actually. There probably was some whining. And it might have taken us 45min to get to day care. But we made it a priority. And now it's a habit. We all walk in the morning and in the afternoon and its fun and sometimes its not and it often takes much longer than I'd want.

And maybe you think 'Ha, I wish I had time to walk my kids to day care, school, activities!' - and I will just tell you to Make Time! Because walking is the one movement we absolutely NEED to do every day for optimal health. And children need it for their healthy development. When I was a kid I walked to school every day. 1,9km one way. I google-earthed it. When did your 6 year old kid last walk 1,9km?

And if you are a new mom with only a baby and no toddlers ... well ... you can get out first thing in the morning tomorrow. (after you packed the diaper bag and put yourself some clothes on and waited for baby to wake up and nursed and changed the baby, ect. - I remember it well!)

And just in case you want to think about your alignment when walking, here are some first main pointers:

1) Keep your feet straight. Align the outside edge of your foot with a straight line. If the feet are not pointing forward when walking, the muscles of the legs and the muscles around the pelvis don't work properly. And those muscles are kind of like your engine for proper walking and also ensure that your pelvis is in its neutral position and the spine isn't overly taxed from walking with your tailbone between your legs.  
notice turned out feet - no lateral hip and gluteus involvement
that is better 

When you try this and you feel pigeon toed and your knees turn in, it means that you need to practice externally rotating your thigh.

2) Find a shoe with a truly flat sole. If you are a high heel wearer, get a smaller heel and come closer to the ground over time. In addition to a zero heel, the shoe should have a flexible sole and your toes should have lots of space to wiggle around. The same applies to your baby's or your child's shoe. Keep your kid in soft soled, roomy shoes as long as possible. Robeez and Soft Start Shoes are great choices for kids. Katy Bowman recently compiled a comprehensive list of minimal shoe brands for kids and adults.

3) When you can, keep your arms free and start swinging your arms. Not pumping forward with the elbow in a 90° angle! Let your arms hang. Swing back actively and let the arm swing forward passively.
If you push a stroller, push it with one arm only and swing the other arm. It will prevent you from using the stroller as a crutch as a nice side effect :) The arm swing is there to make walking a symmetrical activity. One leg goes forward, the oppostite arm swings back. It minimizes any twisting of the pelvis and spine when walking. It also allows the lymph in your armpit to flow and this is good news for breast health in general and nursing mothers in particluar.

And, btw, during my little walk to the store this morning I was so busy checking in with my feet and butt muscles that I completely forgot about the arms.

Happy Walking!

Ps: And here the picture my husband took of me and the kids walking home this afternoon. It was cold and started to rain. And the 3 year old didn't want to walk because she was too cold but didn't want to wear all the extra clothes we brought..... So I carried her. What can you do? It wasn't much fun and walking in alignment with a 3 year old is well ... another story. But we walked. And we will walk tomorrow.

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