As we continue to move into a technologically sophisticated world, tools such as walking apps and step trackers have been steeped into our daily lives at an exponential rate. Our phones, watches and rings now give us the ability to measure how physically active we are by calculating our heart rate, calories burned when running, which exercises burn the most calories, how many daily steps we have taken and so on.
The general consensus amongst health professionals is that getting at least 10,000 steps in a day is pivotal for our physiological health. Studies from the Journal of American Medical Association show that walking 10,000 steps can improve cardiovascular health and reduce risks of both dementia and cancer better than any pill or injection currently available.
But what if someone is consistently hitting this milestone of 10,000 steps with poor or inefficient mechanics? Would this still reduce the risks for these diseases, or would it make things much worse?
This article will dive deeper into questions like these and equip the reader with the knowledge on how to tackle their fitness goals with more intention and knowledge.
Majority of the time, you will walk to your next destination. Whether it be to the restroom or your car, it’s safe to say we as humans rely heavily on being able to move one foot in front of the other. In recent times, people have been turning to the easily accessible activity of walking as inspiration to achieve their health goals. With this, things such as power walking, which is a form of walking that involves a faster pace than regular walking but is not as fast as running and walking challenges have emerged. Walking challenges are typically organized in workplaces, fitness communities or through mobile walking apps and online platforms. Some common types of walking challenges include step challenges, distance challenges and time-based challenges.
Now, although it is important to note that one of the FP first four movements is walking, it is not meant to be overused and abused in order to cope with anxiety we may be experiencing. It is safe to say that most people who utilize step trackers and often partake in these walking challenges are doing so because they have an underlying anxiety about their health and this is the way they are accounting for “staying healthy”.
Although there has been a major decline in the amount of steps taken per day of the average American, is this truly the root cause of Americans being so unhealthy? By forcing ourselves to walk more, this doesn’t account for all the other mechanical problems humans have developed over the years of transitioning from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary one.
“The weighted evidence indicates that humans evolved in environments that required higher levels of human movement than are required today.” As our ancestors' physical fitness was primarily shaped by the demands of survival in their environment, the environmental demands placed on the human organism today have changed. We live in a world today that doesn’t have the same physical requirements therefore it is imperative that we critically assess how we as humans must shape our environment in order to give us the highest biological return on our investment. (1)
There is no doubt that we as humans are meant to walk, but at what point do we stop and ask ourselves, is this really fixing my problems or am I just kicking a can down the road?
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
If you had the option to drive your car with a flat tire or with a fully pumped tire, which would you choose? Surely the fully pumped tire I’m assuming.
This is essentially what is happening when you decide to walk excessive amounts on a daily basis without addressing your underlying mechanical deficiencies. Understanding where the imbalance is (i.e the flat tire) is instrumental in ensuring you get the most out of your exercise. Imagine you had some lower back stiffness or pain in your knee and you decide to be “mentally tough” and hit your goal of 10,000 steps anyway. Although you may feel satisfied with your day's work, how many problems has this caused for you in the future? By ensuring every step you take is integrated and the whole body is involved, you are greatly reducing the risk for injury. What needs to be discussed more is the quality of the steps we take, not the quantity.
Power walking or even just walking at a normal pace with poor mechanics can potentially have negative effects on health, particularly over the long term. Poor mechanics can lead to various issues, such as musculoskeletal imbalances, joint strain, and increased risk of injuries.
Below is a list of potential consequences of walking with poor mechanics:
- Musculoskeletal Issues: Incorrect walking mechanics can place uneven stress on muscles and joints. Over time, this may lead to imbalances, muscle strains, and joint problems, particularly in the lower back, hips, knees, and ankles.
- Postural Problems: Walking with poor mechanics may affect your posture, leading to issues such as forward head posture, rounded shoulders, or an increased curvature of the spine. Poor posture can contribute to discomfort and long-term health problems.
- Reduced Efficiency: Inefficient walking mechanics can make the activity less effective for cardiovascular fitness and calorie burning. It may also lead to fatigue more quickly.
- Compensatory Movement: When certain muscles or joints are not functioning optimally, the body may compensate by relying on other muscles or altering movement patterns. This can create a cycle of dysfunction and potentially lead to additional issues.
The solution to actually making walking a net positive for your structure is to train your body in relation to our biological blueprint as humans. This means training the FP first four which is standing, walking, running and throwing.
At Functional Patterns, we understand the intricacies of the human gait cycle and are able to help people from all walks of life reprogram the way they walk on a daily basis. In doing this we are able to eliminate the symptoms many experience from insufficient mechanics all while increasing their capacities and capabilities to handle their daily stressors. By helping people understand their compensatory patterns, we are able to get to the root cause of pain and many other diseases.
Here is an example of an FP doer Ingrid who is 83 years old. She went from needing a hip replacement, walking with a hip shift and being in 8/10 hip pain to walking with better balance and 0 hip pain! All from training functional patterns for about 2 years.
Below we have another example of Ema who showcases motor control gains despite having cerebral palsy. Thanks to functional patterns she is able to achieve a more stable pelvis and spine leading to better control during walking.
The results shown here are all achieved from simply working on improving the gait cycle via Functional Patterns corrective/dynamic techniques. Therefore by training this way it actually had more of a net positive than walking itself. Ultimately if you are training Functional Patterns there is really no need to go out and walk for exercise.
The Functional Patterns 10-week online program is a great place to start addressing your dysfunctions so you can get the most out of walking. If you are experiencing tightness or pain in certain areas, this course will help you address that and more!
In the world of walking challenges, step trackers, and walking apps, it is clear we as a society are trying to improve our health, yet failing miserably. From 2000 -2010 the amount of knee replacements for both men and women have increased substantially. For men there was an 86% increase and a 99% increase for women. (2)
Along with this, the mean age at total knee replacement for people over 45 years old has decreased 3.9% in just a decade. When we look at these statistics, it is safe to say that hitting our daily goal of 10,000 steps and power walking is doing more harm than good.
We cannot expect that by just walking more we are improving our health. By training more intentionally and not habitually through Functional Patterns, we can actually account for the variables the human organism needs to attain a long, healthy and pain free life.
- Katzmarzyk PT. Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and health: paradigm paralysis or paradigm shift? Diabetes. 2010 Nov;59(11):2717-25. doi: 10.2337/db10-0822. PMID: 20980470; PMCID: PMC2963526.