Few of us pay much attention to how we put one foot in front of the other, but scientists are investigating whether changing the way we walk can protect our physical and mental health.
A promising focus is on how changing our gait reduces our risk of arthritis in the knee. The most common type is osteoarthritis, which usually starts in middle age and gradually leads to cartilage destruction.
Cathy Holt, professor of biomechanics and orthopedics at Cardiff University, is investigating how the way people walk can activate this.
She believes that learning to change their course in middle age can save pain for decades – and avoid the need for later knee replacement surgery.
Scientists are investigating whether changing the way we walk can protect our physical and mental health (file photo)
& # 39; The damage can be caused by poor walking habits & # 39 ;, says Professor Holt.
Simply put: walking with your knees too far apart or too close together can put excessive pressure on the inside of the knee.
& # 39; Some people can naturally sit a little cross-legged or with a club & # 39 ;, says Professor Holt, who is also a spokesperson for the charity Versus Arthritis.
& # 39; However, the way people walk can be affected by a minor injury, such as a cartilage crack or distortion. As a result, their knees are pushed out of their correct alignment when they take a step. & # 39;
Such an overload from one side can cause a cascade of cellular damage.
With healthy knees, the cartilage and the joint bone below remain in constant communication, with the cartilage instructing the bone to release new cells that rejuvenate tissues to compensate for wear. & # 39; If your tissues load as they expect to be loaded, the system works well & # 39 ;, says Professor Holt. & # 39; But if you overload it, it changes the signals between the tissues and they respond poorly. & # 39;
The system then produces overproduction of osteoclasts – cells that break down tissue as part of the normal process of our bones that constantly renew themselves.
This overproduction breaks down the bone joints and cartilage.
Walking with your knees too far apart, or too close together, can put excessive pressure on the inside of the knee (file photo)
& # 39; At the same time, the system also causes overproduction of cytokines – immune cells that cause inflammation and the classic burning arthritis pain & # 39 ;, says Professor Holt. She and her team are investigating gait rehabilitation therapies for people aged 40 and 50.
Other studies have focused on changing the course to relieve arthritis pain. In 2013, Pete Shull, a mechanical engineering professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, asked ten people with knee arthritis to walk on a treadmill while wearing control devices that gave them feedback on how well they were walking.
Participants learned to move the walking load to the optimal parts of the knee joints. After retraining, patients reported that their pain was reduced by nearly a third – and their ability to walk had improved by a similar amount. Professor Shull and his colleagues at Stanford University in California are now developing portable equipment.
Meanwhile, Professor Holt is trying out ways to teach individuals how to change their course.
& # 39; We ask them to walk with different styles – for example with a wider walk – to see if that can have a positive effect & she says.
Other studies suggest that changing your running style can also help prevent depression.
The latest evidence came in February, in a study reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which followed more than 4,000 healthy people over 50 in Ireland for four years. It later found a strong link between poor movement and depressive disorders.
& # 39; Lower walking speed and shorter steps predict a significantly increased risk of depression, said Dr. Robert Briggs, specialist in geriatrics and colleagues in The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging in Dublin.
He says that people with bad aisles probably move less, probably because they find it difficult to walk, and it is known that walking can energetically protect against depression.
But other studies have revealed an intriguing additional factor: research has shown that if we & # 39; are happy & # 39; we can improve our mood.
In 2014, Dr. Nikolaus Troje, a movement biologist at Queen & # 39; s University in Ontario, Canada, trained 39 volunteers on treadmills to develop happy or sad movements with an upright or sagging posture.
After a few hours they had to remember positive and negative words. Those in the & # 39; depressed walking group & # 39; remember many more negative words.
& # 39; The difference in memory suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood & # 39 ;, he says.
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