Benefits of backward walking



Walking backwards, or retro-walking, once an eccentric hobby, is now recognized for its significant health and cognitive benefits. Originating in ancient China and popularized in the 19th Century, this unique practice is gaining attention from modern researchers.

Studies reveal that retro walking can alleviate back pain, improve knee health, enhance cognitive functions, and even burn more calories than walking forward.

This blog post explores the fascinating history of Walking Backward ( retro-walking), its surprising advantages, and the latest research supporting its efficacy.

Besides being cost-free and easily adaptable to various settings

  • whether at home, on vacation, incorporating poles during a hike, with a furry companion, and beyond
  • walking has been scientifically proven to elevate mood, enhance fertility, aid in weight loss, promote heart health, and more. (And for those who believe only running and high-impact exercises “count,” rest assured that walking is a legitimate and highly effective workout.)

But have you considered the benefits of walking Backward?

The Story of Patrick Harmon

In the summer of 1915, Patrick Harmon, a 50-year-old cigar shop proprietor, undertook an unusual endeavour on a bet worth $20,000 (approximately £4,250 then) — he aimed to walk backwards from San Francisco to New York City. With the assistance of a companion and a diminutive car mirror affixed to his chest to guide his path.

Harmon traversed the 3,900 miles (6,300 km) in 290 days, purportedly stepping every inch in reverse. Harmon boasted that the trek fortified his ankles to the extent that “a sledgehammer blow couldn’t sprain them.” Perhaps he had stumbled upon something profound.

In the 19th Century, Walking Backward (“retro-walking”) was regarded as an odd pastime, but modern research shows it offers genuine health and cognitive benefits.

Recent studies suggest that as early as the 19th Century, numerous individuals walked thousands of miles backwards, discovering unexpected physical and mental health benefits.

This intriguing phenomenon was recently examined by Michael Mosley on the BBC podcast and Radio 4 show Just One Thing

Although scientific validation is still awaited, Erin Nitschke, Ed.D., a certified personal trainer, ACE health coach, fitness nutrition specialist, therapeutic exercise expert, and professor of health and human performance, suggests potential benefits.

While jogging’s benefits are well-established, scientific evidence now supports the notion that walking backwards also offers numerous advantages, as explored in this post.

Perceived as somewhat amusing due to its departure from conventional walking styles, incorporating a daily routine of backward walking in familiar spaces like terraces, home gardens, or parks—with due precautions to avoid accidents—can yield several positive outcomes. This practice is linked to memory enhancement, improved task focus, delayed onset of joint pain, and positive effects on muscle health.


Walking Backward

 Benefits of Walking Backwards:

Potential Mental Health Benefits 

1. Enhanced Cognitive Function:

Walking backwards requires increased mental effort and coordination, which can improve cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.

2. Improved Reaction Time:

The need to navigate without a clear view of the path ahead can enhance reaction times and decision-making abilities.

3. Stress Reduction:

Physical activity, including retro-walking, releases endorphins, which can help reduce stress and elevate mood.

4. Increased Mindfulness:

The unique nature of walking backwards demands greater focus and awareness, promoting mindfulness and a break from daily stressors.

5. Boosted Creativity:

Engaging in unconventional activities like backward walking can stimulate creative thinking and provide a fresh perspective.

6. Enhanced Brain Plasticity:

The challenge of learning and adapting to a new way of moving can enhance brain plasticity, aiding in the formation of new neural connections.

 Potential Physical Benefits :

1. Improved Balance and Coordination:

Walking backwards enhances your balance and coordination by engaging different muscle groups and requiring greater body awareness.

2. Strengthened Muscles:

This activity targets muscles not typically used in forward walking, such as those in the calves, hamstrings, and lower back, leading to increased muscle strength and endurance.

3. Reduced Knee Pain:

Retro-walking places less stress on the knee joints, making it a beneficial exercise for individuals with knee problems or those recovering from knee injuries.

4. Better Posture:

Walking backwards encourages an upright posture, helping to counteract the forward-leaning stance often developed from sitting or forward walking.

5. Increased Caloric Burn:

This form of exercise can burn more calories than walking forward, aiding in weight management and cardiovascular health.

6. Enhanced Joint Flexibility:

By engaging in a different range of motion, retro-walking can improve the flexibility of the hips, knees, and ankles.

7. Improved Lower Back Health:

Strengthening the muscles in the lower back through retro-walking can provide better support for the spine, potentially alleviating lower back pain.

 Who Should Avoid Backward Walking

1. Individuals with Balance Issues:

Those who already have trouble maintaining balance or have a history of falls should avoid walking backwards to prevent accidents.

2. People with Severe Joint Problems:

Those with serious joint conditions, especially in the knees or ankles, may experience increased strain and should avoid this activity.

3. Elderly Individuals:

Due to the higher risk of falling and potential injuries, elderly people should be cautious or avoid walking backwards unless supervised.

4. Pregnant Women:

The altered centre of gravity during pregnancy can make walking backwards more dangerous, increasing the risk of falls.

5. Individuals with Vision Impairments:

Those with limited vision should avoid walking backwards, as it requires a clear view of the surrounding environment to prevent obstacles and hazards.

6. People with Recent Surgeries or Injuries:

Those recovering from surgery or injuries, particularly involving the lower body, should refrain from walking backwards until fully healed and cleared by a healthcare professional.

Safety Tips :

1. Choose a Safe Environment:

Start in a flat, open area free of obstacles, such as an empty park, gym, or indoor space.

2. Use Proper Footwear:

Wear comfortable, supportive shoes that provide good traction to prevent slipping.

3. Start Slowly:

Begin with short distances and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable and confident.

4. Stay Aware:

Regularly check your surroundings for any obstacles or uneven surfaces. Consider using mirrors or reflective surfaces to help guide your path.

5. Maintain Good Posture:

Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and head up to ensure proper alignment and reduce the risk of strain or injury.

6. Engage Your Core:

Tighten your abdominal muscles to help maintain balance and stability.

7. Use Support if Needed:

If you are new to walking backwards or have balance concerns, consider holding onto a railing or using a partner for support.

8. Warm Up and Stretch:

Perform a proper warm-up and stretch your muscles before starting to prevent injuries.

9. Stay Hydrated:

Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated, especially if you’re walking for an extended period.

10. Listen to Your Body:

Pay attention to any discomfort or pain. If you experience any unusual symptoms, stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional.

Disadvantages :

1. Increased Risk of Falling:

Without a clear view of the path ahead, there’s a higher likelihood of tripping or falling over obstacles.

2. Strain on Ankles and Calves:

The unusual motion can place additional strain on the ankles and calves, potentially leading to soreness or injury.

3. Limited Visibility:

Walking backwards reduces your ability to see where you’re going, which can be dangerous, especially in crowded or uneven areas.

4. Lack of Support:

If done improperly or without guidance, walking backwards may lead to poor form and subsequent musculoskeletal issues.

5. Unsuitability for All Terrains:

Uneven or cluttered surfaces can be hazardous when walking backwards, limiting where this activity can be safely practiced.

6. Public Perception:

Engaging in retro-walking in public spaces might attract unwanted attention or confusion from others, potentially causing social discomfort.
Walking backwards is a unique and effective way to enhance your physical health and cognitive abilities.

This simple yet unconventional exercise can improve balance, strengthen muscles, reduce knee pain, burn more calories, and boost brain function.

While it may present some challenges, such as increased risk of falling and public perception, the benefits make it a worthwhile addition to your fitness routine.

Embrace retro-walking as a fun and beneficial activity to support your overall well-being.