Are Humans “Bad” at Walking?

That’s the conclusion of a recent survey at Purdue University, at least.

From this article (The Telegraph):

Students [who ranged in ages from 18-35] were sent daily emails to record any slips, trips and falls in the previous 24 hours, with more than half of the participants reporting falling during the 16-week period.

The majority of falls occurred while walking (58%) and the main cause of the fall was a slip (48%) or trip (25%), the experts on human movement found.

So what was the conclusion of the researchers?

‘The fact that the majority of falls occurred while walking supports the prevailing argument that bipeds [animals with two feet] are mechanically unstable and also demonstrates that walking is a challenging task,’ they wrote.

‘These results address an understudied yet important question, and highlight the mechanically unstable nature of bipedal locomotion.’

They conclude: ‘The high fall and injury rate in a short interval reflects the inherent instability of bipedal locomotion and indicates that falls are not a trivial problem for young adults.’

[Read the official study here.]

I’m sorry—what?

This is a great problem with some areas of modern medicine and medical research. Instead of wondering if, maybe, something in our modern environment is no longer supporting and optimizing functional human gait patterns, the conclusion is that humans are inherently flawed—that a basic human function that has evolved over presumably millions of years, is actually inefficient and in need of support and careful assistance.

Before anyone squawks at me, yes, of course there are some design inefficiencies that exist, and I’m also not saying that modern medicine is evil (far from it). What I’m critiquing is this attitude, this willingness to jump to the conclusion that something is wrong and has to be either simply “dealt with” or medicated until it “works right again.”

I’m still working through my Egoscue Postural Alignment Specialist certification, but two  parts I’ve encountered thus far in the course have resonated with me:

“When we think of and treat the body as if it is fragile or inherently weak, we are doing ourselves a great disservice,”

and the general attitude behind Egoscue, which is to help people feel empowered to take control of their own health, and not make them dependent on you, as their therapist, as the gatekeeper of their health and comfort. I am learning to empower my clients, so they will be able to listen to and know their own body, and I will work with what they give me, because I believe that the body has a far greater ability to heal itself than is usually credited to it.

This attitude, that our bodies are marvelous, powerful, adaptive, and desire to function well for us throughout our entire lives, is antithetical to conclusions like these researchers drew from this survey. We’re bad at walking because bipedal locomotion is inefficient in general? Walking is now deemed “a challenging task”? Walking?

Do you remember the hover chairs in Disney’s Wall-E? How every citizen aboard the space ship had stopped walking because the hover chair was so much easier and more comfortable, to the point where their bones adapted to the new loads (in this case, reclining constantly and never moving)?

Could it be, instead, that our sedentary lifestyles have atrophied our muscles enough to make walking a modern challenge for us? Could it be that we do not, in general, get enough movement in our daily lives? We applaud people who work out for at least an hour every day, but even that does not supply an adequate amount or range of motion to support our wonderfully complex, dynamic bodies.

The average American walks only 5,117 steps a day, when 10,000 steps (at least) a day are recommended. I would guess that that average is even lower, for some people.

So no, I don’t accept that “humans are bad at walking,” when we clearly have other factors to consider, particularly ones that deal with our modern lifestyles not providing a wide enough range of motion and a variety of movements to keep all of our muscles engaged, active and stimulated (which translates to stronger muscles for activities like walking, climbing, squatting, leaping, crawling, etc. etc.).

My non-scientific, non-MD conclusion? We aren’t bad at walking, we’re just unpracticed and currently underdeveloped at it, and we should be walking—a LOT more*.

Pro tip: If you live in a city like mine where you must drive great distances in order to get anywhere, try this: Drive most of the way to the location, but park your car some distance away (use your discretion. How far is too far for you? Know your limits), and walk the rest of the way there. You’ll quickly add in some extra walking time into your day, and you’ll be amazed at how little time walking adds to your trip!

*Use your own discretion and talk with your doctor if you’re uncertain about your ability to walk due to other health concerns.

I think I’ll go on a walk now, myself :).

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