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Put your hand up if you drop your head when you’re deep in thought whilst walking.  Or if you look down at your feet when on uneven ground.  (I’m guessing a fair few hands have gone up.)  What struck me this week is that this same altered body position is for very different reasons.

The first is a habit that you’ve somehow fallen into.  It should be relatively easy to self-correct once you’re conscious of it.  The second is more complex.  It relates to your proprioception skills, how confident you are with your balance; and how nervous of falling.  All of these we cover in one way or another during our Nordic walking classes, particularly when it’s ‘brains and balance’ week, which it was last week.

It’s relevant because alignment matters.  Head, neck, shoulders, torso, hips, knees, ankles: in the perfect world all would be aligned.  I know we’re not living in the perfect world but you can do something about it – and a great way to start is (a) stop dropping your head; and (b) start Nordic walking. 

Knowledge is power
The first step to change is knowing what you’re doing.  How frequently do you look at what your feet are walking over?  Why do you do this?  Here’s some possibilities:

1. You don’t trust your balance or your ability to respond if you did trip.  You can do something about this. 

  • You can improve your balance – try standing on one leg; walking heel-to-toe forwards and backwards (with eyes closed if you find it easy).
  • You can improve your leg and ankle strength – buy yourself a balance disk for your ankles; do squats and lunges for your leg strength.  Join our Nordic walking workout classes.
  • You can improve your response reaction speed by practising quick changes of direction; side-steps; even jumps on and off a shallow step if you feel confident enough.
  • You can improve your proprioception by practicing scanning the ground with your eyes and anticipating what your feet will be treading over.
  • You can use your Nordic walking skills – plant the pole firmly to give you extra stability; keep your neck and shoulders relaxed; tighten your tummy.

2. Fear of falling.  This is a biggie.  Children don’t fear falling – and do it all the time.  However as we age we use our bodies in a less dynamic way.  We stop skipping, leaping, falling, twisting, turning.  Arthritis, osteoporosis, illness and injury all take their toll.  Your body becomes stiffer; you decrease your movement; bones may become frailer and falling becomes a real concern. 

You may think that looking down to watch your feet is helpful but it’s actually quite the reverse.  Try standing now, first with your head up and your body in alignment, then with your head down looking at your feet.  Can you see how much dropping your head pulls you out of position?  It strains your muscles, de-stabilises your balance and actually pulls you closer to the ground you are trying to avoid.

I’m not saying never look directly down to see what’s below your feet.  In some situations it’s very sensible.  But make it the exception not the rule.  Strengthen your body, improve your agility and flexibility; don’t stiffen your neck and shoulders, your hands, your face as you walk; use your Nordic walking poles for support and confidence.

3. Lack of foot flexibility.  My blog last week was all about feet.  If your feet are stiff and sore they will be less pliable which makes it harder for you to manage lumpy and rocky ground, roots and divots.  Likewise if your footwear is very rigid it’s also hard to sense what your walking over and hard for your body to adapt.  So work on your feet, stretch and strengthen them, buy correctly fitting shoes and boots with flexible soles.  Work on your Nordic walking technique – lift your toe to plant your heel, roll forwards smoothly and evenly, push off evenly with all your toes.

Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean that you should narrow your fitness parameters or expectations of what you are capable of.  In fact I know that many of you feel fitter now than you ever have before.