My favorite thing about watching a toddler learn to walk is the way they walk like Frankenstein. With stiff legs and little bend in their knees, they keep their arms outstretched, steadying themselves as they walk along even the smoothest surfaces. But as they grow stronger and more confident in their new skill, they start taking on new challenges. The bumpy mulch in the playground. The wobbly scattering of rocks near the edge of a clearing. The trail through the woods with tree roots littering the path. Bit by bit, they learn to maintain stability while they walk on uneven ground.
And yet, as we get older and our balance becomes challenged, we may lose this confidence we worked so hard to nurture and begin to avoid walking places where our footing doesn’t feel as secure. But challenging ourselves to walk on uneven ground is beneficial to our physical and cognitive well-being. Here are 9 reasons why:
- You Improve Your Balance: Walking on uneven ground challenges your balance as it causes you to constantly adjust your body to the changing terrain. By doing this, you’ll strengthen the muscles around your joints, speed up your reflexes for moments when you do slip and train your brain, all of which improve your overall balance.
- You Strengthen Your Core: Stabilizing your body requires you to engage your core, and not just the abs. You’ll also be firing up the muscles in your glutes, back and hips, giving you an all-around stronger core.
- You Gain More Joint Flexibility: Negotiating uneven terrain involves a wider range of motion for your joints, including your ankles, knees, and hips. Allowing your joints to learn how to stabilize your body through various angles helps improve your flexibility which is critical as you age.
- You Have Better Coordination. Challenging your body to adapt to walking on uneven surfaces improves your body awareness about its position within space. Training your body to become more perceptive will help improve overall movement coordination.
- You Burn More Calories: If you’ve ever walked through sand, you know it requires more effort than walking on flat ground. More effort means you work your body a little harder and burn more calories. Now that makes for an effective workout.
- You Stimulate Your Mind: If your goal is to be more present, then walking on uneven surfaces is a great activity as it demands more focused attention. When you stimulate your mind this way, you’ll find you can improve cognitive functions, such as focus, concentration, and spatial awareness.
- You Keep the Boredom Away: Changing where you walk and traversing uneven terrain is fun and a powerful way to make your walk more interesting and keep boredom at bay.
- You Get to Be in Nature: Usually if you walk on uneven ground, it means that you’re on natural ground. And where do you find that natural ground? In nature, which is proven to have its own healing benefits on mental well-being, like reduced stress and being inspired by the power of awe.
- You Prepare for Real Life Situations: You can’t always count on surfaces being flat and smooth, so it’s important to train your body and your brain for the inevitable uneven surfaces, slopes, and obstacles. This functional fitness will help make everyday activities easier to perform.
Follow the toddler’s lead and start out slow, easing uneven surfaces into your walking practice. You may also want to grab a pair of Jetti Poles to take along with you for added stability as they are a great companion to keep you balanced. Consider your fitness level and any health concerns you may have as you head out, and it's always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your exercise routine. But, don’t shy away from the lumps and bumps in your path. They just may help you navigate the twists and turns that life brings.