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The ability to walk is a luxury many of us take for granted. Being able to walk well allows us to continue doing the activities we love, including being outdoors and spending time with friends and family.

Walking well is also a key factor in determining if we can safely stay in our own homes or need to move somewhere that can provide a higher level of assistance.

Despite its importance, our quality of walking is not regularly monitored. Left unchecked, it can silently deteriorate, leaving us at risk of injury or decreased independence. That’s the bad news. The good news is that many of the factors that affect how well you walk are changeable.

When evaluating walking quality, I look at many factors, such as stepping pattern, step size, speed, steadiness and agility (i.e. ability to change direction/turn). I also assess strength and balance because they are often the culprits behind issues affecting walking quality.

Standardized tests can also be used to assess walking speed and agility to determine how you measure up to expectations for someone your age and sex. These tests are also important to do if you are already using a walking device, such as a cane or walker.

Armed with the information from these assessments, an individualized program can be tailored to address your specific needs. Given the number of factors at play, it’s easy to see how simply walking more doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of your walking.

I recently helped an 86-year-old client through this process. In six weeks, he substantially improved his walking quality, which resulted in nearly doubling his walking speed. He achieved this goal by engaging in a targeted strength, balance and gait (walking) re-education program. He learned the program in the clinic and then practised it at home on a regular basis.

Not everyone will have such dramatic improvement, but he is a great example that shows the power we have to change the quality of our walking, if we’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Seeing a physiotherapist regularly for a mobility evaluation is an easy way to make sure the quality of your walking doesn’t go unchecked and that you address any issues that are developing.

Read this article on The Chronicle Herald website.