The Surprising Health Benefits of Walking Backwards

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    Walking requires no special equipment or a gym membership, and best of all, it is completely free. For most of us, walking is something we do automatically. It does not require a conscious effort, so many of us do not remember the benefits it has for our health.

    But what happens if we stop walking on autopilot and start challenging our brains and bodies by walking backwards? It is not just a change in direction that demands more attention. It may also provide additional health benefits. Physical activity does not have to be complicated.

    Benefits of walking

    Whether you are normally active or not, a daily walk can provide a host of health benefits. Plus, you can count toward the World Health Organization recommendation to get a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week.

    Even so, walking is somewhat more complicated than many of us think. Standing upright requires coordination between our visual and vestivular systems (sensations linked to movements such as turning, turning, or moving quickly); also, with the proprioceptive (the awareness of where our bodies are in space).

    When we walk backwards, our brains take longer to process the additional demands of coordinating these systems. However, this higher level of challenge brings with it greater health benefits. One of the best-studied benefits of walking backwards is improved stability and balance.

    Practicing it can help us improve our normal gait (that is, forward). When it comes to improving balance, it helps healthy adults as well as those with osteoarthritis of the knee. When walking backwards, we take shorter as well as more frequent steps, improving the endurance of the lower leg muscles and reducing the load on the joints.

    I did not know it? Well, now, you did…

    Adding gears and walking up or down an incline can also alter the range of motion of your joints and muscles. This offers pain relief for conditions like plantar fasciitis, one of the most common causes of heel pain.

    The postural changes that are created by walking backwards make more use of the muscles that support the lumbar spine. This suggests that walking backwards may be a particularly beneficial exercise for people with chronic low back pain. This technique has even been used to identify and treat balance and walking speed in patients with neurological conditions or after chronic stroke.

    A change in the energy we expend

    The benefits of changing directions are not just therapeutic: interest in backward movement has led researchers to discover other benefits. While walking normally can help us maintain a healthy weight, walking backwards can be even more effective.

    The energy expenditure with this change is almost 40% greater than walking at the same speed forward: 6.0 Mets vs. 4.3 Mets (one metabolic equivalent, Met, is the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting Resting). One study showed reductions in body fat for women who completed a 6-week gait or backward run training program.

    When we are confident in moving backwards, moving forward and running like this can increase the demands even more. Although often studied as a rehabilitation tool, running backwards increases the strength of the muscles that are crucial to straightening the knee, which not only translates to injury prevention, but also to our ability to generate power and athletic performance.

    Running backwards steadily decreases the energy we expend when running forward. These improvements are even beneficial to experienced runners who already have a technique for running more energy-efficiently.

    If walking backwards becomes too easy and space limitations appear to practice this running, another way to increase the difficulty is to start dragging weights. Increasing the overall load increases the use of the knee extensor muscles. At the same time, it places great demands on the heart and lungs in a short space of time.

    Carrying a sled and dragging it backwards carries a low risk of injury, as the most likely result if we are overtired is that the sled will not move. But with lighter weights, this type of exercise can produce an adequate level of resistance. This is madein order to stimulate significant improvements in the power of the lower extremities. With drag weights as low as 10% of total body weight better sprint times can be achieved among young athletes.

    How to start

    Walking backwards is simple, but that does not mean it is easy. So how do you add this to your exercise routine? By walking backwards, we are more likely to miss obstacles and hazards that we could collide with or fall into. So, for the sake of safety, it is best to start indoors, where you know you will not bump into something or someone, or start in a flat, open space.

    Resist the urge to contort your body and look over your shoulder

    Keep your head and chest up as you reach your big toe back for each step, rolling your foot from toe to heel. Once you are more confident, you can speed things up and even transition to a treadmill. And be sure to use the guide rails when necessary.

    If you use weights, start light. Focus on multiple sets rather than long distances. Remember to maintain the integrity of your technique at a distance of no more than 20 meters to begin with.
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