Walking now and then

I was born in 1981 and grew up in an East German village. I spent my childhood roaming the streets of the village with my friends. The streets were largely unpaved back then and the properties of houses didn’t have fences – we just walked from one place to the next covering quite some distances throughout the day.

When I entered school, we walked. We were always a bunch of kids walking and it never felt like a chore. And I honestly don’t remember EVER having been driven to school. Actually, we didn’t even have a car. That was East Germany after all. No money for cars or paved roads. We HAD to walk. All the kids walked.

Google maps tells me that the distance from my house to where the school was (still is) is 2,5km. A four minute drive. In our case a 45min walk. We totalled 5km – just from the school run. In 4th grade we were allowed to ride our bikes to school. But that must have only been in the spring and summer. In the winter we walked. Because we HAD to. Everybody walked. How very different it is now for our children .....

WALKING is the a really really really important physical activity for optimal development and long-term health. Quoting biomechanical scientist and researcher of ancestral health Katy Bowman:

‚Doing other exercise does not replace walking, as your physiology depends on the very particular mechanical signals found in regular, well-aligned locomotion.‘ 

That means riding the bicycle or running around on the playground does not replace walking!
And what about mechanical signals from well-aligned walking? For example, landing on a vertical leg during gait (so no knee or hip flexion) gives the bone building receptors in the hip joint the signal to dispose of old bone and make new bone.  Peak bone density is reached by the age of 18 to 20 which is why walking in alignment as much as possible is really important for developing children.

I don’t know what my bone densitiy in the hip joint is like and I sure hope that I don’t end up needing a double hip replacement like my mom. But I know that I wasn’t really set up for well-aligned gait from the get go. Because I spent the first 9 months of my life in ‚Spreizhosen‘ – a big fat board between my legs in addition to a big fat diaper.

My mom was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was 18 and the ‚Spreizhosen‘ were given to me to aid the healthy development of my hip socket. They didn’t do x-rays back then on babies like me and this was a common preventative prescription. Because I was born with a decent hip socket, it was a completely unnecessary intervention that actually messed with my natural development. You can see where it put my legs and feet. My legs are far from vertical if you look at them in relation to my hips and ankles.

I don’t know about the bone density in my hip but from last October's foot injury I know that I have A LOT of degeneration and weird bone growth going on in my left foot. Seems like my foot bones didn't get the right mechanical signals.

Here is a photo (courtesy of Carol Robbins Pilates) of me recently. Check out how my lower legs turn out. You can see on the photos that my baby legs that were forced out to the side and my adult legs now aren't all that different. I’m working on it. One day I’ll show you a photo of my restored straight legs!

Who knows know much good or harm all my mal-aligned childhood walking did. I'm thinking of the shoes I must have worn and I suspect they didn’t come very close to fulfilling my body's biological requirements.  (read here about what shoes kids need)

But, WE WALKED. And kids these days don't. 

Walking with kids can be a challenge. Kids don’t roam free anymore and there are more cars on the roads than walking people. But it is possible to get your kids to walk every day – after you decided that it’s important and that it has to be a priority.

Our children are 5 and 3 now. Over a year ago now, we started walking the 1km to their Montessori daycare without the stroller as a back-up.  That means the kids get at least 2km walk every day - by default. My husband and I get 4km. It’s not enough to come even close to meeting our daily biological requirement for walking but it’s something. 

On the weekends we often do little hikes. Last weekend we did a 3km hike in Gatineau Park and both kids walked all the way without complaint. We’re off to Lake Placid for the long weekend and we are going to do family friendly hikes. Slowly but surely our kids are learning to walk more and more and one day (one year) fairly soon I hope, we can do our first family back packing trip.

Our kids today need us to teach them the importance of walking. And they need us to walk with them. It’s tedious. Often enough its 1 step forward, 5 steps back. Literally. But the more they do it, the stronger they become and the more enjoyable it is for everybody.

For us it really started when we decided to keep the stroller in the shed. I regret not having ditched the stroller much much earlier. And if I ever had another baby, I wouldn’t use a stroller.

It’s the long weekend. Keep the strollers or carts at home and start walking with your kids. The Gatineau trails are waiting. Start with a short trail and don't forget to pack lots and lots of food and water to keep the kids going.

And here you can find out what shoes to put them in. And a bit of gait 101.

Happy long weekend.

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