Backpacks and Walking
This is Yohei Takada from FuncPhysio. What kind of bag do you use every day? It is my tendency to check the bags people carry since bags have a huge effect on posture and movement. As I mentioned in my article Healthy Aging, walking is one of the healthiest exercises. However, walking with a wrong bag and posture can constantly apply stress on your body. Let’s talk about walking and the importance of choosing the right bag.
There is various form of walking. You can walk to get to your destination, or you can take a walk as an exercise. It is beneficial to health if you maintain a functional posture, but ineffective walking damages your body. It is hard to notice, but walking uses the entire body including pelvis and spine. Every person has his or her way of using muscles and joints. It is so unique that you may tell some people by their walking even from their back.
You can walk from A to B as long as your two legs are intact. Even if your hands are tied, you can still take steps. However, this is not what I mean by walking. Walking is a series of double-spiral continuous movements in which your pelvis and thoracic cage generate power to swing your extremities. By swinging your extremities like a pendulum and creating spiral energy, you can maximize the movement with a minimal amount of energy.
This is the efficient walking I am talking about. Such continuous movement stimulates the whole body, including inner organs and cardiorespiratory systems, which is very beneficial to your health. One thing to keep in mind is that walking vigorously with intense muscle and energy use is not a good walking.
A human body has evolved over time to move efficiently. Intense walking like an army march or a catwalk is far from what the natural walking looks like, and therefore is not efficient at all. When a person carries oneself efficiently, their movement is flowing and natural.
When babies start walking, they learn to swing their arms without being told by anyone. However, in modern days, we are surrounded by things that hinder this arm movement. Even from a young age, many children carry heavy bags in both hands, walking with legs only. When we grow up, one of our hands is always occupied with a bag, phone, or in a pocket. The shoulder bags also restrict your arm movements and force our legs to push ourselves forward. It scares me to see some people walking like that.
By restricting the arm movement, the body is pushing against the force, putting huge stress on muscles, joints, and spine. Try walking with your arms tightly on your side, and you can feel the tightness around your shoulders and neck. Healthy walking is not about how many steps your pedometer shows, or how long you walk around the mall with a shopping bag on one hand. Maintaining the balance by swinging your arms not only promotes efficiency, but also prevents knee, joint, back, neck, or shoulder injuries.
Now that we understand the importance of arm movements, let’s change the subject to bags. Bags, especially handbags, tote bags, and shopping bags, have a huge effect on walking. When you put them on your shoulder, or on one hand, they restrict the arm movements. I recommend using backpacks or small crossbody bags instead. They have the least influence on arm movements. Here is a way to prove my point.
First, try walking without any bag to analyze your walking. Are you swinging your arms? Are your shoulders and neck relaxed? Are your pelvis and shoulders twisting enough? How is your balance? Is there any tension or stress? You might be surprised to find things that you have never noticed before.
Then, hold your bag in one hand and walk again. You should feel how your movement is restricted, how your body is stiff, and how you are using much more unnecessary energy. I understand that on some occasions, you do need to choose a certain type of bag. Whenever you have a chance, please choose a backpack or a crossbody bag and remind yourself to swing your arms while you walk. That could be the solution to the pain you were complaining about for a long time!
Dr. Yohei Takada, DPT