Healthy Gait For Healthy Aging, Part I

Nordin, M, and Frankel, V, Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System, Walters Kluwer, 2012. Osoba, M, et al, Balance and gait in the senior: A modern evaluation, Laryngoscope Investig Otolaryngol. 2019. Kerrigan, D, et al, Biomechanical gait alterations independent of speed in the healthy senior: proof for specific limiting problems, Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1998. Lieberman, D, Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding, Pantheon, 2021
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The energy launched and kept refers to the fact that our center of gravity raises in the first part of the stance phase, which takes work, however lowers back down in the second part, when we get the energy back. The figure above is a side view, but the “pendulum”, your stance leg, can fall forward and back and side to side. Your body has to control that with muscle action, for example your hip muscles are controlling forward and back rotation about the hip (flexion/extension), side to side rotation (abduction/adduction), and rotation about the axis of the thigh bone (internal and external rotation).

As we are, this magnificently choreographed system can start to deteriorate. Ill go over that, and what to do about it, in part II.

In this post Ill go over the significance of healthy gait and the biomechanics of gait. In part II Ill go over how gait can weaken due to one or more of aging, disease, or injury, and go over some exercises for keeping gait. I will not go cover exercises for restoring your gait if it is already impaired, Ill leave that to expert therapists.

The final point about normal gait is that it can be enjoyable to observe a few of the aspects Ive explained, like the contribution of the ankle throughout “toe off”, and the simple and easy sensation, which can practically seem like floating, during the latter part of the position phases as the center of gravity is lowering. I used to get a very peaceful “effortless power” feeling from running, which I missed in the very first few years after I had to offer it up. Today I can get a comparable sensation from walking.

Weve all seen older folks with slow, shuffling gaits and short strides, which minimizes the quality of life. In addition, gait can degrade due to illnesses and injuries including arthritis, neurological disorders and strokes. Even when the initial problem is corrected, such as through joint replacements, numerous individuals never ever recuperate an appropriate gait if they dont do physical treatment workouts vigilantly enough.

This is already appearing difficult, but its oversimplified. For one it is only describing forward and backwards movement, in a side view (the “sagittal plane”). Your leg is not a broom stick, it flexes at the knee and ankle joints too.

Keeping up an energetic walking program assists stave off gait destruction, however even that may not suffice since of age-related loss of strength. When I was growing up, my Uncle Din was my fitness role design. My Mom and the majority of my Aunts and Uncles were quite sedentary, however Uncle Din went for a brisk walk of at least an hour every rain, shine or day. This kept him intensely healthy till pretty near his passing at the age of 92. By his 80s he was getting frail, and by his late 80s he was getting slower and his steps much shorter. So although he aged far better than people who are not active, he could have gained from throwing in some strength training and physical treatment.

You can see some more details in this photo: the knee bends at the start of the stance phase, and extends towards the end. The ankle “plantar-flexes” (points the top of your foot far from your leg) at the end of the stance phase, sometimes called “toe off”, which enables your calf muscles to contribute to propulsion.


The inverted pendulum movement of the stance leg.

There is also sideways movement, mostly at the hips however at the knees and ankle also (in the “frontal” aircraft). The ankles mainly plantar- and dorsi-flex (points the top of foot towards leg), however have to do a bit of sideways rotation also to change to irregular terrain.

The human upright walking gait is a wonder of evolution discussed in information in Professor Danial Liebermans book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding. The stance leg is the one whose foot is on the ground, while the swing leg is the other one. The stance leg is the inverted pendulum, rotating about a point near the foot on the ground, while the swing leg is the traditional pendulum, rotating about the hip.

To sum up, the muscles of the knees, hips, and ankles are used for propulsion, and other muscles, particularly in the hip, are managing rotation about 3 different axes. All of this needs to be governed by your nerve system utilizing balance cues. And toddlers make it look simple!

Published by bionicOldGuy

I am a Mechanical Engineer born in 1953, Ph. D, Stanford, 1980. I have actually been active in the mechanical CAE field for decades. I likewise have a long-lasting interest in outside activities and fitness. I have had both hips changed and a heart valve replacement due to a genetic condition. This blog narrates my experiences in staying active regardless of these bumps in the roadway.
View all posts by bionicOldGuy

I formerly wrote briefly about the importance of maintaining a good walking gait for healthy aging here and here. In this post Ill go over the importance of healthy gait and the biomechanics of gait. In part II Ill go over how gait can weaken due to one or more of injury, disease, or aging, and go over some workouts for maintaining gait. I will not go cover workouts for rehabilitating your gait if it is currently impaired, Ill leave that to professional therapists. The human upright strolling gait is a miracle of evolution discussed in detail in Professor Danial Liebermans book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding.

March 11, 2021March 9, 2021

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