How Gait and Posture Change With Age and Exercise
Any good trainer knows the importance of biomechanics, specifically in simple activities like standing or walking. Posture and gait are perhaps two of the most important aspects of biomechanics when it comes to an athlete’s long term health and success. It’s not uncommon for severe deficits in postural or gait dynamics to appear in otherwise healthy athletes in their twenties, so paying attention to this necessary component of athletics is essential.
However, for most trainers and athletes, the mechanics of posture and gait are poorly understood. This is for good reason, as it’s not a simple issue and not necessarily well understood in science either. To get a better grasp on this issue, a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looked specifically at how lower body mechanics interact with gait. The researchers were primarily interested in how these changes might lead to falls in the elderly clients of personal trainers, but the results apply to all of us, whether trainer, athlete, old, or young.
To me, the results were intriguing and not altogether expected. When we think of age-related decline, we usually think of the hip. However, the hip wasn't the primary issue in this case. In fact, changes to the hip resulting from age didn’t significantly affect gait at all. It was actually activity level that made the most difference to the hips. More accurately, the less exercise at any age, the worse the biomechanics were.
For Breaking Muscle readers, activity level probably isn’t a big issue. Most of us probably get enough to keep our hips strong and our posture in check, so long as we stay flexible enough. So one would think that age must affect the knees instead. Believe it or not, no. Although the knee was affected by both exercise and age, none of those changes significantly impacted gait or posture. The knee generally had the strength and health to maintain good biomechanics.
The culprit in poor gait as we age is actually our ankles. As it turns out, growing weakness in the ankle shifts the pattern of movement and puts stress on joints all the way up the chain. Since the hips and knees maintain strength even as we age, it seems they take the brunt of these changes, which makes us more likely to get injuries, joint problems, and other issues.
As I mentioned earlier, this study isn’t just important for our older readers. Gait and posture issues affect us all. A pain in your knee or back might actually start in your ankle, and without attention, this research indicates it’s only a matter of time before your ankles will be a pain somewhere else.
While the researchers recommended keeping the ankles strong, they also said this might not be enough. Making regular time for dynamic activities that engage the ankles from all angles, such as basketball, might be the best method for keeping your posture and gait going strong for life.
1. Lee Cabell, et. al., “Effect of age and activity level on lower extremity gait dynamics: an introductory study,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(6), 2013.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.