Walking is something most of us learn intuitively as we first begin to totter around the world. But as we grow older, the aches and pains, foot pronations or supinations, weaknesses and the way we compensate for them, can disturb a naturally-aligned gait. So if a lifetime of body mechanics are turning your daily walk into a painful ordeal, doing a walking exercise for seniors can help make this most excellent form of exercise a more manageable—and enjoyable—activity.
For example, if you spend a lot of time sitting, you might have tight hamstrings. That can cause a tilt in your pelvis, which can end up putting an extra load in your lower back and causing pain when you stand or walk. No thank you!
- Liz Fichtner, group fitness manager, Crunch Fitness
So how to reverse the curse of your body’s history when all you want to do is get moving? Re-familiarize yourself with proper walking gait. Yep, just like any other exercise, there is an ideal walking form that will keep you pain-free and able to amble along for miles.
“The correct way to walk [is with] shoulders up and [shoulder blades] down your back, engaging your core, slight rotation for the thoracic spine, and lifting from your heel,” says Liz Fichtner, a group fitness manager and instructor with Crunch Fitness and Well+Good's Trainer of the Month Club trainer.
Breaking down a walking gait might make you feel a bit like a robot. None of the smooth movements of walking feel all that graceful when you’re practicing them one at a time. But ensuring each body part has the mobility, flexibility, and proper mind-muscle connection to do its job will make everything come together even better than before.
If starting something like a regular walking routine feels daunting, know that practices like this walking exercise for seniors can help you work up to your goals.
“If we're starting exercising, maybe we start from walking, learning how to walk correctly, feeling it in the body, getting in tune with the body," says Fichtner. "You don't have to start off doing crazy exercises. You can start by walking, learning how to walk correctly, and how to be in tune with the body.”
You can follow along with Fichtner in this 9-minute video of walking exercise for seniors above, or go through the movements on your own by following the instructions below. And don’t forget to make sure you’re equipped with a good pair of walking shoes before you hit the pavement (or trail or beach)!
A 9-minute walking exercise for seniors
Format: Nine minutes of full-body muscle activation and mobility exercises, focusing on one body part at a time before putting all the movements together to practice an ideal walking gait
Equipment needed: Space to move around
Who is this for: Seniors who want to stretch, mobilize, and activate their muscles before going for a walk
1. Find your toes
Make sure you can move through a full range of motion in your foot. “Slightly lift your heel on the ball of your foot, and I want you just to shift side to side from your big toe, feeling all your toes to the pinky, just have that mind-to-muscle connection,” says Fichtner.
2. Forefoot rolls
Continue foot mobilization, but this time front to back instead of side to side. “Lift the heel and kind of roll onto the ball of the foot, feeling your toes, then lower and then just alternate,” Fichtner says. “Eventually you're going to just start to almost like a little gallop, lifting and rolling onto the balls of the feet.”
3. Lower body joint circles
Move through circles at your joints, starting with ankle circles on one foot, and then the other. Then come back to standing on two feet. With a slight bend in your knees, circle your knees one way and then the other. Repeat the circle motion with your hips. Make sure to engage your core.
4. Arm swings
This exercise is all about building a connection between your deep core and motion in your hips and upper body. Stabilize your hips, engage your core, and then start gently swinging your arms, alternating which one is in front.
“With your hips stable first, we're going to feel this connection in your thoracic spine above the belly button,” Fichtner says. “Just feel that rotation through the thoracic.”
5. Hip side-to-sides
Get used to bringing motion into stabilized and core-connected hips. Practice rotating them so each side swerves forward one at a time. “Just kind of little side to side, feeling nice and loose. Not thinking too much about it,” Fichtner says.
6. Gait practice
Put the last two exercises together by incorporating core-connected gentle arm swings into hip side-to-sides.
7. Leg lifts
This exercise is about learning to drive from the heel. First, you’ll practice lifting your leg up with a bent knee to see where your power naturally comes from. Then, you’ll focus on powering that knee drive from the heel up.
“Lift through the heel,” Fichtner says. “Think the mind-to-body connection from the heel. So think of something lifting you from under the heel. Now you don't feel it in your hip flexor and you don't feel it in your thighs.”
8. Practice walking from the sacrum
“One last thing that we're going to work on is feeling that elongation,” Fichtner says. The way you’ll do this is by identifying your sacrum—the bone in your pelvis at the bottom of the spine and just above and between the glutes—and thinking about lifting your upper body from the base of the spine. This will help you pull the shoulder blades down the back and open up the chest, so your whole body is upright and elongated.
“Go ahead and take your hands on that sacrum and feel that sacrum," Fichtner says. "Just walk and feel that sacrum. Don't you feel a little taller? Do you feel a little longer? How's that posture? Right? Doesn't that feel so much better in the body? Now you're not rounding forward, right?”
9. Put it all together
Practice walking back and forth with a lifted heel, an elongated spine, and core connection as you gently sway your hips and swing your arms.
“We're going to think about that thoracic movement through the thoracic spine above the belly,” says Fichtner. “We're going to think of loose hips. We're going to think of elongated, feeling nice and long and tall. And we're going to think about lifting through the heel.”
Now, you're ready to roll.
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