Is Age to Blame?
A couple of months ago I happen to catch a scene on TV where a very sedentary young boy (aged 13) was trying to run on a treadmill for the first time. I was immediately struck by his movement pattern…. It was almost identical to patterns I have seen in older adults with strength and balance deficits. A normal walking/running pattern has an ankle flexion so the heel strikes first, then weight transfers to the ball of the foot and toes. For a moment you are balanced on one foot before the opposite heel strikes. Stride length is 18-30", stride width is narrow (you could walk on a beam).
This young boy was running flat footed with almost no heel strike, he was taking very short strides with his feet an abnormal distance apart to compensate for diminished stride length. He was also hunched over the treadmil looking down….the exact dynamics/pattern an actor would use to portray a frail "old" person walking across the stage. I was stunned. What an amazing demonstration of the consequences of low levels of strength, range of motion and balance. Obviously. this boys functional limitations had nothing to do with age and everything to do with lifestyle.
Check out your own walking pattern. Do you flex the ankle, stride out strong, and keep your posture upright and eyes forward? Would your stride width (horizontal) and your foot position (straight, not turned out) allow you to walk down a wide beam? Consider whether you spend more time on one foot than the other (very common if you have ever had an injury to compensate for). Abnormal movement patterns can become habitual if you fail to normalize them after recovery from injury.
A great way to test yourself is to walk down an empty hallway (hard floor) with hard soled shoes. You will be able to hear the rhythm of your walk to determine If it is balanced or uneven. Are you spending more time on one foot than the other, or landing heavier on one side? Practice walking strong with an upright posture and purposeful stride. If your gait is seriously out of balance consider consulting with a physical therapist. Abnormal gaits are NOT a normal consequence of aging. They are a symptom of diminshed strength, balance, coordination and/or injury or disfunction. They create abnormal wear and tear on the hips, knees, ankle and back so it is well worth getting it right!!