By Dr. Mercola
I've recently started writing more about the health benefits of proper posture. Its benefits go FAR beyond looks; your posture has a tremendous impact on chronic pain, and in all likelihood contributes a great deal to the biological harm associated with prolonged sitting.
Posture and proper body mechanics is equally important when you're moving about. Simply walking has been found to have significant health benefits, including the reduction of severe attacks associated with lung disease, and a reduced risk of stroke—both of which I'll discuss in a moment.
Walking correctly can only add to such benefits. In the video above, Esther Gokhale teaches several components of her Gokhale Method "glidewalking" technique. She emphasizes the following features:
- Pelvic anteversion (allowing the pelvis to naturally tip forward, with the belt line slanting down towards the front). This is necessary to put the glutes in a position of mechanical advantage, and to allow the back leg to straighten and propel you forward.
- Glute contraction. The glutes are supposed to be the biggest muscles in the body and are designed to power your stride. Most people in industrialized cultures have glute amnesia.
- Soft landing. By sustaining your glute contractions a little longer than most of us tend to, your footfall becomes light. This helps protect your weight-bearing joints.
How to Cultivate Good Gait
- Pelvic anteversion (tipping the pelvic bowl forward). The Gokhale Method advocates doing a mini-squat and letting gravity help the pelvis tip forward. Esther cautions against "sticking the bottom back" as this creates tension in the low back. Pelvic anteversion, when you are not used to it, can feel very awkward at first. Here is a video clip of me reporting on how I felt the first time I was positioned to "tallstand" with pelvic anteversion by Esther Gokhale. Since then, this pelvic position has come to not only feel comfortable, but also normal. These transitions back to healthy posture are nuanced and often awkward at first. I recommend seeking out instruction from a qualified Gokhale Method teacher to make this practical. The six-lesson Gokhale Method Foundations course was very helpful to me.
- Glute contraction. In her presentation "Walk This Way", Esther suggests several ways to "wake up" your glutes so they can get the exercise they need while empowering your gait. This extract from her DVD Back Pain: The Primal Posture Solution shows her working with a student who learned to contract her glutes in walking:
The student reports developing glute tone after decades of having a "flat butt." She also got rid of longstanding migraine headaches by improving her overall posture using the Gokhale Method.
- Soft landing. The muscle that can assist you in landing softly with every step is the gluteus medius muscle. It is located in the upper outer quadrant of the glute pack. In her presentation "Walk This Way," Esther demonstrates how to locate the muscle by doing the following pose:
Once you have found gluteus medius, you can strengthen it by doing repetitions of the pose, or more organically by using it in walking with a light tread. She suggests learning to samba dance as an additional, fun way to work this muscle. Toning your gluteus medius muscles gives you additional health benefits like improved knee alignment and better balance. As a bonus benefit, it's the muscle that keeps your glutes from sagging as you age.
How's Your Walk?
By reorganizing your pelvis and recruiting your glutes, you will be improving your posture all the way from your ankle to your hip, and upwards through your body. From a functional standpoint, it helps you get the correct alignment between your foot, your knee, and your hip. Proper tracking or alignment helps protect your joints during movement. This includes your knees, hips, and lower back. By stimulating the correct muscle recruitment during your walk you also give your glutes and leg muscles a better workout while simultaneously lengthening those muscles. This will help reshape your body in a pleasing way.
I would recommend practicing this while barefoot, to get a real feel for your foot and toes. Walking barefoot on either sand or grass also has a number of additional health benefits associated with the fact that this will allow your body to soak up electrons from the Earth. For pointers on barefoot walking and the benefits of Earthing or grounding, please see my previous article, "Grounding: The Potent Antioxidant That Few Know About".
Learning from Healthy Examples
In the video above, Esther Gokhale walks in line with some ladies from Burkina Faso, Africa, to mimic their gait. Notice that their "behinds" are behind them, that their glutes engage alongside straightening the rear leg, and that they are able to carry weights on their heads and babies on their backs without any apparent stress or strain.
In this video taken in Manaus, Brazil, the man carries a large basket on his head. Notice the steadiness of his pelvis, the strong action of his glutes in propelling him forward, and the relaxation of the leg in the "swing phase." In the Gokhale Method, relaxation in the swing leg is taught after students have gained some mastery of the active propulsion phase of walking.
Walking Posture Connects with Your Overall Posture
How you sit, bend, lift, stand, and even lie influences how you walk and vice versa. For example, by walking well you will develop your glutes and have a more comfortable built-in "cushion" to sit on. Conversely, by sitting well with your behind out behind you, you will be cultivating pelvic anteversion and be well poised to have a more powerful, effective stride.
By using your "anti-twist muscles" (the abdominal obliques and rotatores) to stabilize your torso as you walk, you will strengthen critical components of your "inner corset." A stronger inner corset will allow you to carry weights more effectively and safely. Conversely, by cultivating your deep abdominal and back muscles as you carry objects, you will have a more stable torso to help you walk rapidly.
Free Online Workshop
Esther Gokhale is offering a special online workshop on glidewalking for Mercola.com readers. This is a marvelous opportunity to learn more about how to walk properly from a real expert. The event is free, and will be offered during three time slots as follows:
Exercise Reduces Chances of COPD-Related Hospitalization
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. The disease is progressive, and falls into two main categories or forms: chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which destroys your lungs over time. Those with COPD may suffer a combination of both of these forms. The US fatality rate from COPD is estimated to be around 134,000 each year.
Previous research has highlighted the benefits of diets rich in fruits and vegetables to protect lung function and decrease your risk of COPD. More recent research also notes the benefits of gentle exercise on the condition. According to a two-year long study published in the journal Respirology,1 walking for two miles a day or more can reduce your chances of hospitalization from a severe episode of COPD. As reported by WebMD:2
"Scientists found that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients without regular walking regimens had about twice the rate of hospitalizations triggered by the condition compared to those who maintained the highest levels of physical activity. This was defined as walking between roughly two and four miles each day.
'Of course, daily walking acts to improve the exercise capacity of these patients,' said study author Dr. Cristobal Esteban, a staff member in the respiratory service at Hospital Galdakao-Usansolo, in Spain. 'Physical activity is a 'medicine' that will improve your general condition as well as COPD.'"
While the study used a mild two-mile walk, this is a very low level aerobic exercise and will not provide as much benefit as Peak Fitness exercises. The study never examined higher intensity exercises, but they should provide far more benefit than low level cardio as long as one limits oneself to operate within the parameters of reduced oxygen capacity from the COPD. Additionally, the Peak Fitness exercises can be done in less than half the time of a two-mile walk.
A commonly held idea used to be that if you have COPD, you should avoid physical activity so as not to stress your lungs. As with many other health conditions, this turns out to be seriously flawed advice. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that exercise is beneficial for virtually every condition under the sun. This includes people with cancer and heart disease, pregnant women, asthmatics, those with osteoarthritis, and the elderly.
One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose, insulin, and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease, including all the ones listed above.
Walking Also Cuts Stroke Risk in Elderly Men
Another study published in the November 2013 issue of the journal Stroke3 found that daily walking reduced the risk of stroke in men over the age of 60. A stroke involves either a rupture of an artery that feeds your brain (hemorrhagic stroke), or an obstruction of blood flow (ischemic stroke), with the ischemic type representing 75 percent of all strokes. Your risk of stroke increases with age, with most occurring after age 55. Nearly 3,500 men between the ages of 60 and 80 participated in the study. They were divided into five groups, depending on how long they walked each week:
- Those who walked 0-3 hours/week
- 4-7 hours/week
- 8-14 hours/week
- 15-21 hours/week
- More than 22 hours/week
The findings suggest that walking for at least an hour or two could cut a man's stroke risk by as much as one-third, and it doesn't seem to matter how brisk the pace is. Taking a three-hour long walk each day could slash the risk by a healthy two-thirds. Same issue here though; Peak Fitness exercises would provide far more benefit in a fraction of the time. According to lead author Barbara Jefferis, a senior research associate in the department of primary care and population health at University College London:4
"Stroke is a major cause of death and disability and it is important to find ways to prevent stroke, especially in older people who are at high risk. Getting into the habit of walking every day for at least an hour could protect against stroke. Walking could be for transport, such as doing errands and going to the shops, walking around indoors as well as walking for leisure, such as walking in a park."
Both Women and the Elderly May Do Better with Low to Moderate Intensity Exercise
Previous research supports the notion that exercise is a key stroke prevention tool. One study published last year5 found that if you're inactive, you have a 20 percent higher risk for having a stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) than people who exercise enough to break a sweat at least four times a week. It's worth noting that there appear to be some gender and possibly age-related variations that make the intensity of the exercise either better or worse in terms of reducing stroke risk.
Research appears to support the idea that adult men need more vigorous exercise to reap maximum benefits whereas women tend to do better with moderate intensity. The elderly may also only need low intensity, provided they walk for a longer period of time. As an example, research presented at the 2014 American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference found that moderate exercise (such as taking a brisk walk) reduced women's stroke risk by 20 percent. According to Medical News Today:6
"The researchers, led by Prof. Sophia Wang of the Beckman Research Institute in California, say this decreased risk from moderate exercise is just as strong as that of strenuous exercise... Prof. Wang says she was surprised that the link to reduced stroke risk was strongest with moderate physical activity. 'More strenuous activity such as running didn't further reduce women's stroke risk,' she adds. 'Moderate activity, such as brisk walking appeared to be ideal in this scenario.'"
Another 2013 study7 also concluded that walking at least three hours per week reduces stroke risk in women better than high intensity cardio. One possible explanation is that women may be more susceptible to the excessive physical stress "conventional cardio" exerts on the heart. Men, on the other hand, appear to fare better with higher intensity exercise. For example, one 2009 study published in Neurology8 found that vigorous exercise reduces stroke risk in men, and helps them recover from a stroke better and faster as well. (Moderate to heavy exercise was, again, not found to have a protective effect for women.) I would expect the right type of cardio to lower stroke risk in both men and women.
Walking—It Does a Body Good
Few activities are as underrated as walking. But research and experience both confirm that walking is powerful medicine. Younger people would do well to pick up the pace and intensity, while the elderly may simply focus on staying in motion for as long as possible each day. Reducing COPD-related hospitalization rates and stroke risk is just the beginning.
Add to this proper posture, and walking can suddenly take you even further, improving your workout, your cardiovascular benefits, and your muscle tone, while decreasing pain and stresses on your joints.
Just remember that, ideally, to optimize your benefits from exercise, you'll want to push your body hard enough for a challenge while allowing adequate time for recovery and repair to take place. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with high intensity interval training (HIIT), which consists of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by longer periods of recovery, as opposed to extended episodes of continuous vigorous exertion.
This is a core part of my Peak Fitness program, which has helped many return to and maintain good health. Unfortunately, the concept of high intensity exercise training, or Peak Fitness, is relatively recent and it will be many more years before studies are conducted that show its superiority to the low level cardio used in the studies above.