Consciously Vary Your Walking Stride for Optimal Health Benefits, Experts Say

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Walking

It is widely believed that walking is beneficial for health — whether it is brisk, slow, backward, or normal. But have you ever wondered if stride length also plays a role?

According to neurologist Dr. Sudhir Kumar, varying stride lengths can indeed help you optimize your walks. “Take shorter or longer steps while walking. For every 1 per cent increase in step length variability, there is a 0.7 per cent increase in the metabolic cost of walking,” Dr. Kumar wrote on X.

Walking is an effective and easy way to manage weight and overall health. It is a low-impact exercise that can be beneficial in various ways such as increasing blood flow to the entire body and brain, improving cardiovascular and pulmonary health, and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. “Walking speed can be categorized into 2 variables — stride rate and stride length,” said Dr. Anup Khatri, senior consultant, orthopedics, Gleneagles Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.

Stride length refers to the distance covered between consecutive placements of the same foot, while stride rate is the number of steps completed per minute. “Varying stride length can indeed impact your walking efficiency and overall health,” said Dr. Udit Kapoor, orthopaedic consultant, Metro Hospital.

Dr. Khatri explained that shorter strides can help with balance and stability, especially for older adults or those recovering from injury. Shorter steps reduce the impact on joints, making walking more comfortable and sustainable over long periods. On the other hand, longer strides can increase the intensity of your walk, engaging different muscle groups and boosting cardiovascular benefits.

Walking with a conscious effort to vary your stride length can also add an element of mindfulness to your exercise routine. This practice can help prevent monotony and keep your mind engaged, potentially improving mental health outcomes alongside physical benefits. Dr. Kapoor emphasized that by mixing shorter and longer steps, you can create a more dynamic and effective walking routine.

Additionally, walking with varied stride lengths can aid in muscle toning and flexibility. It challenges your body in new ways, helping to maintain overall fitness and mobility. Dr. Kumar’s advice highlights the importance of not just walking regularly but also being mindful of how you walk to maximize health benefits.

Dr. Swati Rai, a physical therapist at Fortis Healthcare, notes that altering stride lengths can also help in injury prevention. “When you vary your stride, you’re not placing repetitive stress on the same muscles and joints. This can help in preventing common walking injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and knee pain,” she said. By diversifying your walking pattern, you distribute the load more evenly across different parts of your body, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.

Moreover, changing your stride length can improve your proprioception, which is your body’s ability to sense its position and movement in space. This is particularly beneficial for older adults as it can enhance their balance and coordination, potentially reducing the risk of falls. Dr. Rai suggests that incorporating stride variability into walking routines can be a simple yet effective way to maintain and improve physical function as we age.

Dr. Shalini Sharma, a cardiologist, points out that varying your walking stride can also have cardiovascular benefits. “Longer strides can elevate your heart rate more effectively than shorter strides, providing a good cardiovascular workout,” she explained. Conversely, shorter strides can be beneficial for people with cardiovascular conditions who need to maintain a moderate heart rate. By adjusting your stride length, you can tailor your walking workout to your specific health needs and fitness goals.

Nutritionist Ria Banerjee adds that walking with varied stride lengths can complement a healthy diet in managing weight and improving metabolic health. “Combining different walking techniques with a balanced diet can enhance metabolic rate and aid in weight management,” she said. By consciously varying stride length, individuals can burn more calories and improve their overall metabolic efficiency.

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