For healthy adults, walking is so automatic that it's impossible to remember having learned how to do it. Yet it's easy to pick up a few bad habits along the way that make our walks less efficient—and maybe even injurious. The good news is that even patterns established over a lifetime can be reversed, reports the February issue of the Harvard Health Letter.
Ideally, by adulthood a person will walk with head erect, back straight, arms bent, knees extending and flexing, and feet striking the ground with the heel and pushing off with the toes. Our upper bodies also get into the act. Unfortunately, few of us achieve the ideal gait, and fewer still maintain it. Over time, we may lower our heads and thrust our trunks forward. Instead of swinging, our arms may dangle listlessly at our sides.
Bad habits aren't the only reason our gaits go awry. A variety of health conditions can throw us off stride, too. Arthritis is perhaps the most common. Good reflexes, healthy joints, strong muscles, and the vestibular system in the ear, which gives us a sense of spatial positioning, all play a role in keeping us upright. Take away any of them, and our balance suffers.
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