Walking Backwards ---How It Improves Your
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September 3, 2018

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Most of us start walking somewhere between the time we are 9
months and 12 months of age. Because we walk every day,
walking becomes something we do without consciously thinking
about how we do it. The brain takes over, making us walk on
autopilot. This frees up the brain to notice other things such as
oncoming traffic or people, according to a 2010 study led by
researcher Laura Malone of The Johns Hopkins School of

But walking almost entirey of forward walking. Most of us rarely
have to walk backwards. But now scientists have learned that the
very rarity of having to walk backwards means that the process
"trains" different pathways in our brains, recruiting new areas of
brain activity. This exciting discovery has opened up the
possibility that people with diminished or damaged brain regions
--- such as stroke victims or ADHD sufferers --- could be
improved by engaging in backward walking. Does walking
backwards in effect help us build a bigger, better brain?

Walking BackwardsImproves Attention Spans of Children with

Walking appears to boost the attention spans of children with
ADHD.  In 2014, researchers from University of Molise in Italy
assembled 13 children with ADHD and 13 children without the

To test the attentiveness of the children, they completed a game
called "Go/No Go".

Children naturally play Go/No Go games. One of the Go/No Go  
games we played as children called "Simon Says".  You win by
following instructions after the leader says "Simon Says". But
you lose if you go ahead and do a task that the leader asks you
to do without first saying "Simon Says". You can see how such a
game would test attentiveness because you not only have to take
an action once the leader says "Simon says" but you also have to
listen and inhibit an action by not following a command that is
given without first being preceded by "Simon says".

Both groups of students then were made to walk backwards for
10 minutes, three times a week, for two months.

They then were re-tested for attentiveness. What the researchers
found was that, after the backwards walking training, the
students with ADHD
had 49% fewer errors in the Go/No Go test.

The children without ADHD also improved. Their forward walking
speed increased by 9.3%.

Backwards Walking Uses a Different Neural Pathway Than
Forward Walking

By the time we are teenagers, we have been walking forward for
over 10 years. Walking is automatic, something we don't have to
think about.

However, as the study noted, walking is a complex process that
summons the brain to coordinate and integrate many sensory
feedback loops across multiple brain regions to "modulate spinal
circuits called central pattern generators".

Your brain uses an hierarchical control system to achieve stability
from one stride to the next.

Because walking recruits multiple brain regions to coordinate
complex tasks, some scientists believe that walking was one of
the key if not "the" key evolutionary development which spurred
our brains to grow into the complex marvels that they are. In a
sense, we don't walk because we are human; we are human
because we walk.

Walking Backwards Improves Walking Ability of Stroke Victims

Studies of stroke victims have found that backward walking
training improves their forward walking speed and may improve
their balance. A 2018 study from University of Florida led by Dr.
D. K. Rose studied 18 people who had suffered a stroke a week
earlier. The participants were enrolled in backwards walking
training for 8 sessions of half an hour per session.

At the end of the sessions, the participants' forward walking
speed improved significantly.

Not Walking Makes You Dumber and Walking Makes You Smarter

Scientists have learned that the act of walking feeds our brains. A
"The foot's impact during walking sends pressure waves through
the arteries that significantly modify and can increase the supply
of blood to the brain", according to a study presented at the APS
annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2017 in Chicago in 2017.

More blood flow increases your capacity to learn, to think and to
be creative.

This may be why several studies have found that
improves creativity transforming the brains of people aged 59 to
65 into the brains of 20 year olds

Walking improves the memory and is particularly effective in
improving memory of people with early Alzheimer's.

Both forward walking and backward walking help improve verbal
fluency. But backwards walking tells us something else as well.
Your ability to walk backwards is a better indicator of your
overall cognitive function than forward walking, a 2017 study
from Umeå University in Sweden.

Walking Backwards Sharpens Your Ability to Focus

From an evolutionary perspective, we are on high alert when we
are retreating from danger. Scientists wondered if the simple act
of walking backwards --retreating --  could sharpen our thinking.

In 2008, psychologist Severine Koch and her team from Radboud
University Nijmegen in The Netherlands conducted this
experiment. They gave students a focus test called the "Stroop
test'. This is the test where you are shown cards with the names
of colors, and asked to  name the color if the ink, only "blue"
might appear n red ink and "red" might appear in black ink.

The researchers found that people performed significantly better
on this test if they first took a few steps backwards.

How Much Should You Walk Backwards to Improve Your Brain?

Here we take our cues from the studies. You should aim to walk
for 10 minutes, 3 times a week.  If you are unsteady o your feet,
see your doctor before you start a program of backward walking.

It is better to walk backwards with a companion or friend. And
always choose a flat surface to practice backward walking.

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