Walking – A Great Exercise for your Spine and Back!

I was talking to a patient the other day about spinal exercises, and mentioned that walking is one of the best exercises you can do for your spine and overall health.

Yes, plain old walking.

Why is this?

There is more and more research coming out about the benefits of walking, and if you think back to our evolutionary history as humans, it makes sense.

Quite simply, you are designed to walk.

What anthropologists have found is that our ancestors did not evolve and grow by elaborate hunting techniques, or by being bigger or stronger or faster than their prey, but simply by being better walkers.

Strange, but true.

If you look at humans compared to many of the animals we’ve hunted in the past, physically speaking, we hardly stand a chance.

Whether it’s a buffalo, or a mammoth, or a giant elk, or some other large animal 10,000 years ago, they were bigger, faster, stronger, and more dangerous than we were.

Majestic African buffalo bull roaming the savannah grasslands of Kenya, Africa.
A powerful African buffalo bull in its natural habitat, the Kenyan savannah.

But, we evolved to our present state largely by eating these large animals, ingesting large amounts of healthy proteins and fats, allowing our brain and central nervous system to develop to our present state.

So how did we do it?

After analyzing our gait patterns, basically how we move, scientists have found that we’re horribly inefficient when we run. We burn massive amounts of energy (not good for long-term survival), and are slow, and can’t go very far.

If we were relying on running down our prey to survive, we’d lose almost every time, and basically starve.

Exhausted female runner taking a break on a city street, leaning over with hands on knees.
A moment of rest: A female runner catching her breath after a challenging city run.

So how did we do it?

We walked and walked, and just kept on walking.

Humans are amazingly efficient at walking, we can literally do it for hours and hours, even days, barely having to stop.

We don’t go fast, but we can go for a long, long time.

We’d basically walk down our prey. We’d see a giant elk, start walking towards it, it

would run, be way out in front, and we’d just keep walking towards it.

This would disturb it enough that it couldn’t really rest, or eat or drink properly, and finally after hours and hours of this, even days, it would eventually get so tired and weak that it would literally fall over. We’d then finally be able to catch up to it, and finish it off.

So simple, it almost boggles the mind.

So yes, you and me and all human beings are designed to walk.

Research shows that our ancestors from 5000 or 10,000 years ago used to walk on average 5-10 miles per day, or roughly 8-16 kilometres, every single day!

Some of it was for gathering berries or other foods, for moving camp, or for walking down animals while hunting.

But the fact is, we are meant to walk, a lot.

So, what is one of the best exercises for YOU to do? Walking!

We are virtually identical genetically to our ancestors from 5000 years ago (99.9% the same), so if it was good for them, it’s good for you.

Current research also shows how beneficial walking is not only for our cardiovascular system, but also from a biomechanical perspective, to help ensure the proper gyroscopic motion of your pelvis.

Walking helps to maintain the proper rhythm of your lumbar spine and pelvis, which is critical for the long-term health of your low back and hips. 

Try to take good long strides when you walk, at a good pace, to allow for proper pelvic motion.

Person walking on the beach at sunset, showcasing a relaxed posture beneficial for spine and back health.
A soothing sunset beach walk, an ideal exercise for enhancing spine and back health.

As well, swing your arms about your shoulders (not just at your elbows), so that both your legs and your arms are moving forwards and backwards when you walk. This movement is very helpful for the health of your spine, and for stimulation of your brain.

So, if in doubt, put on some shoes on, and hit the sidewalk or trail.

You don’t have to do 10 miles, but even a couple kilometres can make a huge difference.

Happy trails!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Dr. Byron Mackay


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