A Spring in My Step

My step has lost its bounce, as if the balls of my feet have become underinflated. At best, I tend to plod; at worst, I lumber. Of course, a lot of this has to do with tiring myself — and especially my legs — working in the yard, but there is so much to do out there before winter that I tend to work more than I should. Still, I thought I’d check online to see what — if anything — would help put the spring back in my step.

I had to laugh. The first few articles I found had advice like think positively, eat right, drink right, work in a garden, go shopping, visit with friends, have some fun. Good advice, but not exactly what I was looking for. I did eventually find some exercises to help improve strength and balance in the lower body and enable elderly people to walk better and be safer.

After more research, I came across an interesting explanation of why older people lose the spring in their step: a difference in joint and muscle redistribution. For younger people, a normal gait is powered 1/3 by the hips, 1/3 by the knees, and 1/3 by the ankles. For elderly folks, the gait distribution is 3/4 by the hips, 1/8 by the knees and 1/8 by the ankles.

Because of this, you’d think that ankle and knee strengthening exercise would help redistribute the propulsion ratios, but although those exercises are valuable and help with many problems, exercise itself does little to put the spring back in a person’s walking gait. I can attest to that — I am doing various ankle/hip/knee exercises, and although they are helping my knees, they aren’t doing much to help with the spring in my step.

What does help? Paying attention to your gait when walking, standing tall as if peeping over a crowd, and actively engaging the ankles — land on the heel, roll the foot to the ball of the foot and push off.

Of course, as with everything I research, there is controversy. Some physical therapists and exercise trainers say this is entirely the wrong way to walk, and each offers their advice to walk correctly, such as landing on the outside of the heel and slightly move it inward to land flat. Or don’t land on the heel at all but walk toe to heel. Or land on the ball of the foot and use your hips to propel you forward because your hips are the bigger muscles and hence have more power. (I wonder if this is why elderly use their hips more than ankles or knees — since it is the biggest muscle group, it would retain muscle mass longer than other muscles.)

To me, the correct way of walking is whatever is most comfortable, least painful, and lightest on the feet, so I suppose almost all ways of walking are correct for someone.

There’s not much I can do about trying to propel myself forward when I’ve spent myself — I’m lucky to be able to move at all at those times — but I have noticed the rest of the time that if I pay attention and actively engage my ankles, I do seem to have more of a spring in my step.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

2 Responses to “A Spring in My Step”

  1. Estragon Says:

    I haven’t given much thought to exactly how I walk. The most important thing for me is just to get out walking. Although (osteo) arthritis is apparently a wear & tear thing, I find it hurts less if I walk more often. Odd, but I’ll take it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      As soon as I catch up on my yard work, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back to walking. I tend to think I walk the way that one guy said to walk — land on the outside of the heel and slightly rotate (pronate) to land on the whole foot because I always wear down the outside of the heels on my shoes first. I figured I walked wrong but maybe not. The most important thing is to walk, and as I said, I’m hoping to get back to it soon.

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