Not only does walking have psychological benefits and contribute to your daily exercise, but it can also be a powerful tool for building a healthy, resilient back.
Professor Stuart McGill, a renowned spine researcher, describes walking as “non-negotiable” for back health. However, the way you do it matters! Below is an outline of some of the important considerations.
1. Your pace: slow walking causes constant loading of the structures in your back. Faster walking, on the other hand, causes what is known as ‘cyclic loading’ of the structures in your back. This decreases the muscular effort required by your back and reduces the forces on your back. Another study showed that fast walking was a factor in both preventing, and recovering from, low back pain.
2. Your “brace”: a mild stiffening of your core helps to keep the lower back relatively stable while you are moving the upper back, shoulders and hips.
3. Your attitude: keep your chest up and let your arms and hips swing in a relaxed manner – in other words, walk as if you own the world! This may feel strange at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.
4. Your schedule: try and do shorter, more regular walks rather than one long walk once in a while. This is especially important if you spend long periods of your day in one posture! Ideally try and walk for about 10 minutes 3 times a day.
5. Your pain tolerance: in order for it to be therapeutic for your spine, it needs to be pain-free! If walking is at all painful for your back, please consult me before starting to walk more regularly and we will fine-tune all the factors involved in walking to get you pain-free.
I am, of course, aware that there are often barriers to walking such as safety concerns, time restraints etc. However, my aim is to help you to understand the importance of this activity for your spinal health and encourage you to incorporate it into your life in any way that your schedule and environment allow.