In my last two columns, I discussed the importance of walking well and how leg and core strength contribute to that ability.
Balance and agility are also integral to being able to walk well. Balance and agility require co-ordination between your visual, vestibular (inner ear), muscular and proprioceptive (ability of your body to know where it is) systems.
Many exercises can address these systems and improve your ability to walk well. Here are two of my favourites.
Single leg stance
I am often asked why standing on one leg is such a valuable exercise. Obvious examples of when we might use this position are activities like putting our shoes on or getting dressed.
However, single leg stance is also present in every step we take when walking; walking is simply a single leg stance on one leg, followed by a single leg stance on the other and repeated.
Having good stability in the single leg stance position allows us the ability to change direction, pause or stop suddenly with good control while walking. This exercise can be practised safely at home.
Position yourself facing the countertop, shift your weight onto one leg, lift the opposite leg and hold this position for as long as you can. Ideally, you should be able to hold this position comfortably for 20 seconds.
At first, you should hold the countertop. As your confidence and ability improve, try to have your hands hover over the countertop for safety (so you can grab it if needed). Never let yourself sway out of control.
Repeating this three to five times on each side daily can substantially improve your balance and agility while walking.
Although most of us aren’t on balance beams regularly, we do often have to manoeuver behind a chair or in a small space.
This can require stepping one foot directly in front of the other (as though on a balance beam). This position is difficult to control because the base of support under your body is much smaller than normal.
The tandem stance position involves having one foot in front of the other so that the heel of your front foot touches the toes of your back foot. Ensure you have a countertop in front of you or sturdy chairs on either side that you can grasp for safety/balance as needed. Try to hold this position for 15 seconds. Never let yourself sway out of control. If you have any health conditions that might make these exercises unsafe or uncomfortable for you, it’s best to consult your physiotherapist before trying them. I hope you have found the last few columns on walking well useful.
Remember, walking well requires good patterning, strong muscles and good balance. Our ability to walk well can change over time due to changes in these systems. If you feel your walking has changed, consider seeking a physiotherapy assessment to take back control of this important aspect of your physical health and independence.