Walking is an effective exercise for improving posture, and even people who are already active can benefit by adding daily scheduled walks to their fitness routine.
While resistance, endurance, and agility training build strength, stamina, and speed, walking is a unique exercise that complements strength and flexibility training with continuous engagement of the hips, legs, and core to build stability and balance .
Walking also increases a person’s overall upright activity that engages muscles essential to balance, economy of motion, and postural alignment.
With the correct stride and choice of shoes, regular walking will increase flexibility and mobility of the legs and hips while allowing a person to consciously train proper alignment of the shoulders, head, and neck.
Built to Walk
The human skeletal, muscular, and cardiovascular system are adapted to stand and walk upright for extended distances as part of daily human life.
Walking proficiency is one of the cornerstone capabilities that allowed humans to become the dominant animal in every ecosystem they inhabited.
Humans may be physically weaker and slower than many animals, but humans were able to overcome powerful and dangerous animals by tracking and outpacing their quarry over extended distances at a walking pace.
Walking also enabled humans to migrate to new territories and climates to forage, flee natural disaster, and seek space for growing populations.
When physical fitness was a necessary survival trait, the ability to walk long distances allowed early humans to thrive as foragers and hunter-gatherers.
The good health and posture of cultures that continue to thrive as foragers and semi-nomadic herders indicates the benefits of a lifestyle that depends extensively on travel by walking.
This standard of activity is useful to gauge ideal levels of upright activity as part of a daily routine in the modern world where cars, computers, and industrialization influence daily levels of exercise and activity.
It should be no surprise that the reduction of walking due to the spread of personal transportation, desk-based occupations, and technology-based entertainment might have negative effects upon posture and health.
Without adequate walking, chains of muscles throughout the legs, hip, and trunk do not activate, flex, and extend as they were designed to do.
This lack of activity weakens many muscles that balance and stabilize our bodies to form posture adapted to sedentary body positions.
Regular walking is important to utilize the body as designed to reclaim proper function and alignment of the muscles and joints.
Continuous Physical Engagement
Understanding that good posture forms through daily upright activity, a person can expect their posture to be negatively affected by sedentary lifestyles which reduce overall activity through artificial means.
Even with regular exercise, one must account for the thousands of hours spent every year at a desk that inherently creates hunching, slouching, and leaning positions in one’s chair.
With prolonged sitting positions, one must consciously renew engagement of the hips and abdominal muscles to maintain a neutral spine.
Since the lower body is often supported by a chair, the muscles in the legs, glutes and hips remain relatively inactive and play a reduced role in supporting posture while sitting.
As these muscles atrophy, many connected and opposing muscles become strained and overactive creating a network of imbalances and asymmetries that can be functioning basis for poor posture.
Walking addresses many of these effects through an activity that represents a large window of activity that recruits and stretches these muscles using a continuous motion that naturally seeks to support the upper torso.
By comparison, resistance training amounts to mere minutes of active physical engagement and each training session requires rest periods between each set.
The low-impact nature of walking allows mental and physical effort to maintain engagement of the abdominal muscles and glutes for sessions that can be sustained for multiple hours.
By using long strides, a person flexes and stretches muscles in the legs, hips, and trunk to reduce excessive forward curvature in the lower back while training proper retraction of the shoulders.
While resistance and cardio training play important roles in improving posture, regular walking plays a unique and effective role in countering sedentary tendencies by assuming an upright mobile state that continuously engages muscles from head to toe.
By adding just 15 minutes of walking to their daily routine, the average American can triple the average number of steps taken each day, from 5000 steps to 15,000 steps (0.5 miles daily average versus 1.5 miles daily average).
Walking Engages the Core
Walking, especially on uneven terrain, necessitates stabilization of the entire body to create a fluid, repeatable gait, preserve energy, and maintain an upright stable center of gravity.
Contact with the feet sends signals to the legs, glutes, and muscles deep within the hips to balance and level the pelvis through reflexive movements that adapt to even and uneven terrain.
Abdominal muscles become engaged to control the center of gravity and maintain an upright torso; shoulders stabilize additional counter-balancing motions generated by the arms.
This stabilization action strengthens the abdominal muscles and hamstrings while stretching tight, strained hip flexors that often form excessive curvature of the lower back.
Strained hip flexors and excessive forward curvature of the spine are often products of poor posture typified by habitual hunching and slouching.
Strengthening the glutes, abdominal muscles, and hamstrings through regular walking increase flexibility of the hip flexors to reduce excessive arching of the lower back.
This increased flexibility reduces the effort required to properly flex the lower back to maintain a neutral spine during active and resting body postures.
Additionally, increased flexibility in the hip flexors can reduce overall forward hunching and indirectly reduce hunched, forward-rolled shoulders caused by overactive pectoral muscles.
This has a continued effect on posture by providing a stable, upright base to train proper positioning of the head and neck directly above the shoulder girdle when stretching, lifting, and running.
Walking Improves Flexibility
When walking to improve posture, it is important to exercise an extended stride to maximize range of motion and engage stabilization efforts of the hips and core muscles.
Each stride is comprised of two distinct phases: A forward sweep of the leg followed by a rearward roll that alternates between support and forward motion.
This creates a double-pendulum movement where muscles of the rolling leg lift the body’s center of mass upward while the sweeping leg “catches” the center of mass as its foot makes contact with the ground to transition into its own rearward rolling motion.
The forward sweep of the leg engages upper and lower abdominal muscles while engaging muscles in the hip to stabilize one’s gait.
The rearward roll of the leg activates and flexes the gluts and hamstrings while stretching the quad, calf, and hip flexors.
The conditioning created by this motion can improve overall posture and create flexibility and mobility in the legs, hip flexors, and lower back.
Utilizing this base to initiate movements of the thighs, shoulders, and arms, an extended stride has potential to increase flexibility and range of motion through repeated extension and engagement of the legs, hip, and lower back muscles.
Proper shoes are vital.
Walking in bare feet generates the most contact and support from the foot to initiate engagement of the legs and hips. While walking in bare feet might be ideal, it might not be a practical option for many people and locations.
Flat-soled shoes with minimal cushioning and support work best. Good examples would be Converse All-Stars and Vibram toe-style shoes.
These shoes do not interfere with movement of the feet when making contact with the ground.
Poor examples would include high heels shoes, thick-soled leather shoes, protective boots, and cushioned sneakers.
These shoes reduce the foot’s direct contact with the ground surface and are often a significant factor in forming poor posture.
Challenge can be increased.
Walking might be classified as low-impact activity, but the physical challenge can be increased through changes in terrain and elevation grade.
Walking on uneven terrain such as wilderness trails, dirt, or sand will increase the effort required to balance and stabilize the body while moving.
Increasing the incline of a treadmill will vastly increase the effort required to walk forward.
With regular walking along uneven grades, such as the shoulder of a road, avoid forming a pelvic tilt by choosing paths that alternate any uneven distances the leg and foot must travel to make contact with the ground.
Walking can be integrated into a persons’ daily life in a variety of ways.
To improve posture, person should walk 5 times a week for at least 40-60 minutes, approximately 3 – 4 miles on flat terrain.
With that said, the more walking, the better.
Even if someone lives in a suburban or rural area where travel by cars is necessary for daily life, there are various ways to integrate additional walking into the day.
Parking a half mile away from one’s destination and using the extra distance to walk can add a mile of walking with just 15-20 minutes added to one’s overall schedule.
This seemingly small measure would effectively triple the total steps walked by the average American (5000 steps ~ 0.5 miles) by adding an additional 10,000 steps of walking.
Replacing time normally spent sitting with upright activity and exercise is a great way to integrate walking into daily life to improve posture.