Total Health
Chiropractic

Benefits of walking for spinal health

by Dr. Mymy Quach, Chiropractor at Total Health Chiropractic Geelong 

woman walking up hill

What are the benefits of walking?

Walking is a great simple, low impact exercise that you can do daily to help improve your health and overall well-being. There are many benefits for walking daily, including: 

  • Lower risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
  • Keeps the joints flexible 
  • May reduce lower back pain
  • May help lose weight
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves energy levels and mood

According to the Australian Physical Activity guidelines, it is recommended that healthy adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. This can include walking throughout the day and accumulating 30 minutes or more at one time, or combining shorter sessions of activity of around 10-15 minutes each.

How can you increase the amount of walking you get in a day?

There are many ways that you can increase your step count, including: 

  • Joining and participating in a walking group
  • Organising time to walk with friends or family
  • Adopting a dog to take on walks with
  • Purchasing an activity device such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch to help keep you motivated and improve your health by keeping track of you fitness, food, weight and sleep 
  • If you go to the gym, you can include walking on the treadmill part of your exercise routine
  • Set a timer on your phone or computer to help remind you to go on your walk, whether that be in the morning, afternoon or evening. This is a great way to incorporate walking into your daily living. Make this part of your everyday routine!

When may walking not be beneficial?

Existing conditions/injuries where walking can exacerbate the area more

There are certain circumstances where walking may not be beneficial, such as having existing conditions/injuries where walking can exacerbate the area more. Your body compensates for pre-existing injuries, meaning your body adapts to poor posture or new walking patterns because of it. Therefore, when you are walking incorrectly or have poor posture due to the new patterns your body has created, it can cause more damage and pain or stiffness to an area in the body.

If you are wearing the incorrect footwear

Walking with incorrect footwear can put more pressure in your lower back, hips, knees and can cause plantar fasciitis (inflamed tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot). Features of incorrect footwear include: 

  • Too heavy or chunky
    Walking shoes should be lightweight and comfortable, but still provides support
  • Too stiff – the shoe cannot bend or twist at all
    Walking shoes should be flexible to help the feet move correctly with each step
  • Too worn in or old
    If your shoe’s cushioning is worn out, the shoe cannot support your feet properly. This can increase the risk of rolling your ankles and pain in your back or knees
  • Too small
    Your feet tend to swell when walking, therefore if the shoe is already too tight and small, it can affect the circulation in your feet and cause blisters and pain in your feet

Walking in a brisk pace is beneficial for your fitness as it increases your breathing, heart rate, balance and coordination. It is important to create mobility in the spine and strengthen the back and leg muscles to improve spinal health. By doing this, it reduces pressure on the joints, disc spaces and muscles – to help prevent back pain and stiffness overall.

How can walking benefit spinal health?

Two friends walking along a path in a forest

Walking can help improve spinal health in many ways, including:

1. Reduces spinal stress and pressure

Walking creates mobility in the spine and improves the spine’s range of motions, therefore joints in the body are not constantly stiff. It can also help stretch out tight muscles that maybe causing back pain.

2. Improves circulation to the spine

Blood circulation increases while walking, which helps promote nutrients to the spine and surrounding soft tissues. Over time, toxins can develop within the lower back muscle tissues and therefore cause stiffness. By walking, these toxins can be flushed out and improve flexibility. 

3. Improves posture, flexibility and balance

Poor posture can lead to pressure in your neck, upper back and lower back and can even cause headaches! Walking encourages your spine to obtain its natural curves. Make sure your head it looking forward and not down at your phone – this can add a lot of pressure and stiffness in your neck and upper back. Walking keeps your body upright, therefore increasing stability in the spine. 

4. Walking outside and getting some Vitamin D can help keep bones strong and healthy

Walking helps to preserve your bone density and decreases the risk of osteoporosis (bones becoming weak and brittle).

5. Walking supports your joints and strengthens your muscles

Joint fluid increases as we move, which helps to bring oxygen and nutrients into the area. This reduces the risk of stiff joints that can become inflamed and irritated (arthritis).

Walking also tones your leg and abdominal muscles, which reduces the pressure and weight from your joints to your muscles.

Improving management of medical conditions with walking

Individuals who suffer from medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol can benefit from walking because walking increases cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness. Therefore, walking can help improve the management of these conditions. 

In Australia, the most common musculoskeletal disorder and the leading cause of pain and disability is Osteoarthritis, affecting 7.8% of the population. Common risk factors for Osteoarthritis include being a female, overweight or obese. Results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health shows that 100-200 minutes of walking per week decreased the reports of arthritis by over 6 years in women.

There are so many benefits when it comes to walking, fortunately it is a simple, low impact exercise that you can do daily.  Just remember, everyone is different – your walking pace and duration will vary in comparison to others and is dependent on your level of tolerance. Be sure to use the correct posture when walking, keeping your spine naturally curved, shoulders relaxed and your head looking forward and aligned with your spine. Make walking enjoyable and relaxing – grab a friend or family member to go on walks with, find a good playlist or podcast to listen to while walking.

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