The most recent issue of IDEA’s Fitness Journal has an article that sheds light on the benefits of walking fast. I have blogged in the past about the benefits of walking, and doing so at a pace that elevates the heart rate. This article reports on the findings of a recent study out of England published in Clinical Rehabilitation on a totally different aspect. It shows that people who are trained to walk at a fast pace after a stroke are more able to multi-task.
The theory is that those who walk more slowly put more thought into each and every step; this limits their ability to focus on other things while they are walking. On the other hand, those who walk more quickly get into a kind of rhythm or cycle that becomes almost automatic; this frees up their brains to be able to concentrate on other things at the same time. The research is important because our brains are called upon to multi-task all the time; safely walking requires our brains to chart a course, avoid obstacles, stay balanced, etc. Of course, if you want to walk and chew gum at the same time that is a whole other matter!
This article reminded me of an interview on NPR I heard with the author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, Sian Beilock. Beilock did research into why athletes (and others) “choke;” for example, if a golfer is two below par and simply has to sink a 2-foot putt, why is it that sometimes they “choke” and keep missing the hole? The ability not to choke has to do with having practiced something so much that it becomes automatic–the putt can be done without thinking. Once overthinking begins is when problems start. (Of course, I am oversimplifying the interview, but you get the point).
With older adults and those who have experienced stroke, physical changes may result in having to relearn walking or learn to walk in a different way. What was once automatic now requires thought, which can lead to a choke–in this case, a fall. The research out of England makes perfect sense; teaching stroke survivors to walk quickly and automatically will lead to safer walking in the long run.
As a personal trainer working with older adults, this study has important ramifications. I do work with clients who have a history of stroke. The more they are trained to do tasks automatically, the more likely they will be to successfully multi-task and return to greater independence.