Step back to move forward and burn more calories

Reverse walking engages a distinct group of muscles such as the calf, glutes and quadriceps, and helps improve stability and balance.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

When 25-year-old Neha Khanna needed surgery post her accident, she was relegated to the bed. For an active person like her, being in bed seemed like the biggest punishment. She wanted to get back to some form of exercise, but since her healing was slow given the severity of injured tissues in her knee, she had to take it slow.

That’s when her physiotherapist recommended backwards walking as a rehabilitation exercise to improve knee proprioception or the sense of one’s body movement. This kinematic control makes backward gait especially useful for patients like Khanna as it reduces the force and impact with which the feet touch the ground, due to shorter strides, helping build lower limb strength.

“Not only did it help with physical recovery, it also improved my mental agility as it challenged my brain to get out of the otherwise monotonous act of regular walking,” says Khanna.  

For the body

Reverse walking engages a distinct group of muscles such as the calf, glutes and quadriceps, and helps improve stability and balance. One takes shorter steps, which improves muscle endurance in the lower legs while decreasing the strain on the lower joints.

“The continuous changes in incline or decline when you walk backwards, can alter the range of motion for several muscle groups, offering pain relief for a common condition called plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of a thick band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes, which causes heel pain,” says Dr Rajeev Rajesh, chief yoga officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute, Bengaluru.

Walking backwards also consumes 40 per cent more energy than walking forward; therefore, it also helps burn more calories. Moving in reverse gets your heart beating faster. If done consistently on challenging ground conditions, it can be a good cardio workout that also gives metabolism a boost and torch more calories in a shorter period.

Says Dr Karthiyayini Mahadevan, head, of Columbia Pacific Communities, Bengaluru: “The exercise is great for shin muscles that help flex your ankle and foot off the ground. As you walk backwards, the toe strikes the ground and then rolls through the foot to the heel. This results in improved coordination while working the gluteal muscles.”

For the mind

Walking backwards comes with several neurological advantages as well. The seemingly simple act of walking involves several cognitive functions such as remaining upright, the coordination between our visual and vestibular system that creates a sense of spatial orientation, and kinaesthesia or the sense of body position.

“Our brain has learnt to process all this automatically, but when we reverse the process of walking, it is challenged with a new kind of processing that takes reorientation, hence, longer in meeting the new demands of coordination,” says Rajesh, adding, “Suppose you increase the level of challenge by introducing elevation or obstructions. In that case, this exercise can offer added health benefits, the biggest being promoting neuroplasticity or the nervous system’s ability to restructure its programming, given the change in environmental stimuli.”

It’s time to put the body in reverse gear.

Do it Right

● Choose an open space
● Start slowly by reaching back with your big toe and then roll through your foot towards your heel
● Develop momentum gradually. Don’t be in a rush to gain speed. Walk this way daily for 10 minutes in the first week and then for 15 minutes the week after that, increasing the time and speed gradually.
● Check with your doctor before you start in case you have stability issues or vertigo

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The New Indian Express