Why walking backwards can be good for your brain and health?

Why walking backwards can be good for your brain and health?

Why walking backwards can be good for your brain and health?

Why walking backwards can be good for your brain and health?

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In the 19th century, “retro-walking” was seen as a quirky pastime, but now, studies show that it can actually be good for your health and brain.

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In 1915, a 50-year-old cigar-shop owner named Patrick Harmon attempted an unusual challenge. He decided to walk backward from San Francisco to New York City, aiming to win $20,000 (equivalent to about £4,250 at that time) in a bet.

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With the help of a friend and a small car mirror attached to his chest for guidance, Patrick Harmon completed a 3,900-mile journey from San Francisco to New York City by walking backward. It took him 290 days to accomplish, claiming that the experience strengthened his ankles to the point of needing a sledgehammer to sprain them.

Interestingly, walking backward, also known as retro-walking in academic circles, has a long history. In the 19th Century, people undertook backward walks for various reasons, from impulsive bets to setting bizarre records.

Beyond the historical context, walking backward has proven physical benefits. Physiotherapy often utilizes it to alleviate back pain, knee issues, and arthritis. Some studies even suggest that retro-walking can enhance cognitive abilities like memory, reaction time, and problem-solving skills.

The practice of walking backward for health benefits traces back to ancient China, gaining recent attention from researchers in the US and Europe as a method to enhance sports performance and build muscle strength.

Walking backwards has been a popular activity for record attempts and friendly bets but research suggests it is good for our health too (Credit: Alamy)

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Janet Dufek, a biomechanics expert at the University of Nevada, has dedicated over 20 years to studying backward locomotion. In her research, along with her colleagues, they discovered that walking backward for only 10-15 minutes daily over four weeks enhanced hamstring flexibility in 10 healthy female students.

Additionally, backward walking proved effective in strengthening the back muscles responsible for spine stability and flexibility. Another study led by Dufek involved five athletes who reported a decrease in lower back pain after engaging in periods of backward walking.

“Our research has shown that, indirectly, backward walking has some benefits relative to lower back pain simply because you’re stretching the hamstrings,” says Dufek. “Often one of the pieces that’s tied to lower back pain is tight hamstrings.”

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Backward walking and running drills are incorporated into certain sports training routines, especially in team and racquet sports where agility in forward, backward, and lateral movements is crucial. Retro-running, in particular, is valuable for athletes as it strengthens muscles while reducing stress on the knee joints, aiding in injury prevention.

Beyond athletes, retro-walking has proven advantages for various groups, including the elderly, youth, individuals dealing with obesity, those with osteoarthritis, and post-stroke patients with walking difficulties. Notably, walking backward has been shown to burn more calories compared to forward walking.

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