People with back pain were once told – Go to Bed! Now physicians and therapists often say – Take a walk!

But do these wellness professionals intend for you to walk with your spine rigid ??? You might as well go to bed. No, they envision the natural movement pattern of the spine. Yet, so many people walk without any thought to the movement of their spine.

I walk, therefore I exercise. Really?

Watch people walk. How many are really getting exercise? How many are walking, head crooked into a cell phone or doing what I call WALKING OLD?

As we age, we can lose or reduce spine function. Learning how to use poles for walking and hiking enables us to use our upper body muscles to help preserve our joints. Spine function can be restored. This is done because, when we walk with poles, we appear to walk as we did when younger – with attitude. We are using muscles which support AND lengthen the spine.

When gravity acts, the spine compresses, we get shorter. Using poles actually can reverse this process – the spine lengthens and elongates.

Walking with ATTITUDE– with purpose – is the natural walking pattern. It’s called reciprocal gait. It’s the diagonal pattern of opposite arm and leg. When this occurs, the spine is able to ROTATE. This spinal rotation feels good, looks good and is very healthy.

Walking with poles recruits core muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, lower trapezius and oblique muscles. These core muscles, when used, strengthen. When optimal posture and form are used, the spine lengthens.

All of this assumes a natural arm swing. The arm swing is part of the spinal rotation and muscle recruitment. Learning optimal use of poles is key to achieving these benefits. Beware fads or techniques that involve elbow pumping. Repetitive movement of a joint can cause stress. Repetitive movement especially of an elbow joint can cause strain or tendonitis. Anything that does not look natural or like walking “with attitude” needs to be approached with caution.

• As you walk, think of walking with purpose or focus.
• Think of a lovely sachet or of strutting.
• One lady said, “Oh you want me to walk Sassy!.” YES!
• Whatever works for you, know that you cannot rotate too much.
• It only looks like you’re walking YOUNG.

What will help you achieve a more natural walking gait that will help your spine? Here are some ideas:

• Focus! Put your attention into your walk. Get off the cell phone, off the IPod, out of the external and really notice your form.
• Notice your arm swing, your stride length, how your feet move, where you’re looking.
• Are you breathing?
• Give a mental lift to the bottom of your rib cage.
• Notice what happens to your form when you think of adding attitude to your walk.
• Think of cues like sachet, strut, sassy and see what happens to your form.
• Roll your shoulders up, around and back.
• Think of retracting and depressing your shoulder blades (see scapular stabilization on this blog). This recruits the muscles that support and elongate the spine and feels really GOOD.
• Learn how to use POLES to really strengthen your back muscles and to lock all this attitude in for your entire walk.
• Create Positive Muscle Memory: Give yourself a mental pat on the back when you’re focusing on your form.
• Give yourself a mental pat on the back when you are not focusing on your form. You remembered LATE!

Regain the vibrancy of youthful walking – learn how to walk optimally with poles and Enjoy the Outdoors!

Author's Bio: 

JAYAH FAYE PALEY, fitness and wellness educator, presents hiking, walking and fitness seminars for national and state park associations and health related organizations around the country.

Jayah, an AFAA & ACE-certified Personal Trainer, is the creator of the only comprehensive educational media on how to use poles, which includes two award-winning DVD's.

For over 15 years, she has trained people of all ages, abilities and physical conditions (such as Parkinson's, MS, arthritis, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, etc.) as well as athletes, trainers and physical therapists to use poles to achieve, regain and maintain mobility for hiking and walking. She has authored and delivers courses which provide continuing education credits for personal trainers.

Jayah is a breast cancer survivor; she has and manages lymphedema. She is the co-founder of the Lymphedema Education, Exercise & Prevention Group at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

If you've seen either DVD and have practiced and still have questions, check the website. If you still have questions, please contact Jayah directly.