While walking can be described as moving one leg in front of the other, optimal walking posture involves a bit more than that. From how you hold your head to how you roll your feet can determine if you are activating or releasing the correct muscles and putting tension and undue impact on certain joints.1
Below is a breakdown of proper posture, and what that looks like when you walk and sit.
What Good Posture Looks (And Feels) Like
Nearly everyone has heard that you should stand up straight — and while this is great advice, good posture is a bit more detailed. But it certainly doesn’t need to be elusive. There are some hallmark signs of good posture. Here is what to look (and feel) for when standing, starting from the ground up.
- Your weight is evenly distributed between your feet.
- Your knees are even and pointed forward.
- Your hips are even (that is, you’re not resting on one side more than the other).
- Your core muscles are lightly engaged.
- Your arms are at your sides, and your elbows are even and straight.
- Your spine is neutral (that is, not arched or flexed).
- Your shoulders are rolled back and down.
- Your chin is parallel to the ground.2,3
Why Proper Walking Posture Matters
It all comes down to body mechanics — the way you hold or move one part of your body can affect another part. For example, one study looked at proper walking posture — that is, to walk upright compared to slumped. It found that participants experienced a significant improvement in their physical and mental health, including feeling less pain and sleepiness, and greater confidence and reduced stress, when walking upright.4
Practicing Optimal Walking Technique
You know how to walk, but unfortunately for many, proper walking technique was something that was never taught. Luckily, all the tips below require just minor tweaks to what already comes naturally. The aim of optimal walking technique is to prevent holding tension in any one part of the body as you stride, while practicing a gait that is gentle on your joints.
- Focus On Standing Erect. If you tend to sit all day behind a desk, there is a good chance a hunched posture is carried with you when you stand — and walk. When you stand up, focus on lengthening the spine. To feel this adjustment in action, rest the tips of your fingers on your hips and your thumb on your lower rib cage. As you extend your spine, the distance between your fingertips and thumb will increase. This is the natural extension you want to maintain when you walk — the keyword being “natural,” as you don’t want to overcorrect by leaning backward.
- Support Your Spine By Pulling In Your Stomach. While you don’t need to fully engage your core muscles to the degree of an abs exercise, tucking in your tummy while walking can help you resist the urge to lean forward or slouch. Additionally, don’t feel like you have to really tuck under your tailbone to activate your core — allow yourself to maintain a comfortable, neutral pelvis.
- Roll Your Shoulders Back, And Keep Them Relaxed. Forward shoulders can naturally cause you to tilt forward, diminishing good posture. Hunching your shoulders up toward your ears can cause upper-body tension. When you walk, roll your shoulders back and down, which enables your arms to swing more freely.
- Swing Your Arms Like A Pendulum. With your shoulders rolled back and down, you are able to properly swing your arms starting at the shoulders, rather than restrictedly from the elbows. The full swing should be like a pendulum, moving back and forth — and not going higher than chest level. Also, focus on not crossing your arms in front of your body.
- Practice A Light Heel-To-Toe Gait. Optimal walking technique involves avoiding a firm, flat-footed landing as you stride. Instead, you want to focus your gait on taking light steps by rolling from your heel to your toe. You want to be mindful to not take too big of a step as one foot moves past the other — this can actually increase joint impact. A healthy gait is smooth and quiet, without any bouncing or flat-footed plodding. As you stride, pay attention to your step to see if you’re rolling your foot from heel to toe.
- Keep Your Eyes And Chin Up. Having your gaze at your feet (or phone) puts a strain on your neck and upper back. Your focus should be approximately 20 feet ahead. This should help enable you to view your path as well as anything in your periphery. Reminding yourself to hold your chin and neck at a 90-degree angle will help you prevent the dreaded curled-over posture of staring at your phone when you walk.5,6
Finding Proper Posture When Sitting
The average American sits for approximately 10 hours a day.7 This sedentary behavior has not only been linked to weight gain, but it may affect your circulation and possibly your immune system.8
You can help mitigate some of the negative effects of sitting by taking frequent breaks and practicing good posture when seated. Here’s how:
- Have Your Feet Touching The Floor. If you can’t, add a footrest for support.
- Keep Legs Even. This means do not cross one leg over the other or rest your ankle on your knee.
- Keep Your Ankles Out From Under Your Chair. You want to avoid tucking your ankles, and instead focus on keeping them in front of your knees.
- Support Your Hips And Thighs. This includes a well-cushioned seat and making sure your hips and thighs are parallel with the ground.
- Support Your Back. Use a chair with a backrest, and add a pillow if needed to support the curve of the lower back.
Keep Your Elbows Bent Between 90 And 120 Degrees. And also, keep them tucked in close to your body.
- Keep Your Shoulders Relaxed. You want to avoid both rounding and pulling back your shoulders too much. Let them rest naturally.
- Sit At A 90-Degree Angle. You don’t want to lean in or back in your chair.
- Adjust The Height Of Your Computer Screen. It should be no more than two inches above eye level.
- Stretch Out Muscles. You can help relieve muscle tension by gently stretching throughout the day.9,10
Walk The Walk: Practice Proper Posture Every Day
With one foot confidently in front of the other, you can walk the walk and talk the talk of proper posture just by being mindful every day of how you move your body. Your doctor is a great resource for all things body mechanics and should be consulted if something just doesn’t feel right or you need assistance with improving your posture.
Here’s to a healthier back, reduced tension, and a little more pep in your step.
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