Recently, I happened to go to the house of my friend, Stephen Martin to invite him for a speech in our club. He is a retired professor in management studies and is a well known orator and author. He was doing his morning exercise in his yard when I arrived. I could not believe my eyes when I noticed what he was doing. He was walking backwards in a funny way. I even doubted his mental condition watching this unusual and abnormal activity.
“What are you doing, sir”, I asked him in great surprise.
He stopped walking, gave me a nice smile and said:
“I was doing my daily exercise. This is called backward walking. You might have felt it rather odd”.
“Oh; great. I also do daily walking, but not of course backwards”; I said.
“I regularly do my backward walking exercise for half an hour in the morning. Neighbors may be thinking that I have gone haywire, they may call me a crazy professor’; he continued with a laugh.
He then explained the amazing benefits of backward walking. He came to know about this from a friend who had returned from China after a two months visit. One of the secrets of health and longevity of ancient Chinese people was a regular backward walking exercise. After hearing about the positive experiences of Martin, I also decided to start this. Thus, I learned more and more about the health benefits of this amazing and novel idea of exercise.
History of backward walking
Backward walking or retro walking is not a new thing. It is believed to have originated in ancient China. There is a popular saying in Chinese; ‘ A hundred steps backward are worth a thousand steps forward’. The ancient Chinese people practiced retro walking as a short cut to good health and cure of certain diseases. This secret wisdom of health passed over to generations. Even today it’s a funny scene that people are walking backwards in parks and pathways all over China. Some are seen clapping their hands while walking backwards.
Chinese consider retro walking as a very beneficial and effective exercise for keeping up the physical, mental and emotional health. It has a close relation with the famous Tai chi Chuan or Qigong.
Now retro walking has spread to several countries in the world. In Japan and Singapore a good number of people have adopted this as a regular form of exercise. In some other countries this is used not only as an effective exercise but also a potent therapy for sports injuries and old age problems like osteoarthritis and even dementia. Some people tried to spread this form of exercise by conducting and participating in competitions worldwide. A few rose to fame by competing for world records in retro walking. In 1932, an American athlete, Plennie Lawrence won the Guinness World record by walking backward from Santa Monica (California)to Istanbul (Turkey) at the age of 36. Mani Manithan from India walked backwards for 25 years and ultimately it was very difficult for him to walk forward.
Benefits of retro walking – Scientific findings
Several scientific researchers have tried to find out the various effects of backward walking. In a clinical study conducted by some medical practitioners and experts it was found that a four weeks retro walking alleviated the knee pain and improved functional mobility of knees of chronic osteoarthritis patients. Their hip muscles were strengthened and back pain was alleviated by this exercise. The muscles and joints which are not used in forward walking are actually used in retro walking and the strain on muscles and joints used in forward walking will be relieved. Experiments have concluded that the therapeutic benefits of retro walking are much higher than those of conventional walking and other forms of kinematic exercises.
More Calories burned in shorter time
In an experiment, the calories burned in walking backward was measured and compared with the energy expended in forward walking. A brisk walk at 3.5 mph showed 4.3 MET (Metabolic equalent) energy expended while retro walking at the same speed burned 6 MET. This showed that backward walking burns 40 % more calories than that spent in forward walking. Retro walking activates your muscles and joints more efficiently and in different ways when compared with forward walking. By backward walking you can save a lot of time in burning calories and reducing weight.
A study conducted by South Africa’s Stellenbosch University researcher and published in ‘The International Journal of Sports Medicine’ revealed that backward walking improved cardio respiratory fitness. In certain sports, retro walking is an external element of training. Boxer champions Gene Tunncy and Muhammad Ali used to run backward several miles daily to improve their muscle power and athletic performance.
Balancing body movements
Backward walking activates and improves the functions of cerebellum of the brain, which is playing a major role in balancing and coordinating the body and the body movements. Hence the ability to balance your body is enhanced and the probability of falling down and get injured is reduced considerably. Usually incidents of losing balance of the body and falling down are more common among people in the old age. So, seniors are especifically advised by experts to practice retro walking regularly.
Improving memory & creativity
Researchers of the Roehamton University found that retro walking considerably enhanced the memory power. 114 participants of the study who were shown a particular video were divided into three groups. Participants in the first group were asked to walk forward 30 feet and second group members walked the same distance backward with the same speed. The control group stood still without doing anything. All participants were asked to answer 20 questions about the contents of the video they have seen, for testing their memory. In the test, the grouop 2 who walked backward scored the highest, compared to other groups.
Dr.Daniel Schacter, professor of psychology, Harvard University, was thrilled by the results and suggested that retro walking can be used for preventing or delaying dementia and Alzheimer’s disease related to old age. Chinese doctors recommend this exercise for all age groups for improving brain functions and sharpening memory. A study published in Cognition magazine also found similar results. The retro walkers could recall better past events, than those walked forward or sat still. Therapists have reported that walking backward has helped several people to improve and sharpen their thinking skills and creativity.
How to practice therapeutic retro walking
Since you are conditioned to walking forward only you may initially feel some difficulty and hesitation to walk backward. Many may think that it is silly, awkward and strange . You may be therefore ashamed to start practicing this. But, considering the amazing benefits of this exercise you have to take a bold decision to start this and do it regularly.
You can do this three to four times per week for10 to 15 minutes initially. Gradually you can increase the time to 20 to 30 minutes. You can make retro walking an essential part of your daily life. When you become comfortable with retro walking, you can begin retro running also. In retro walking or running your topmost priority must be your safety and health. You can do retro walking in a treadmill very safely. You can start slowly and gradually come to your comfortable speed. Seniors who are beginners of this form of exercise should take care of their body balance to avoid any chance of falling down during the retro walking in open space.
Retro walking for Holistic Health-An over view
Many persons feel that backward walking is funny and even abnormal. Some are ashamed to take up this uncommon and strange exercise, thinking that they may be misunderstood as eccentric. But you have to realize that retro walking is an amazing Chinese technique for gaining holistic health and longevity. Now, we can have an over view of the holistic health benefits of this wonderful exercise.
* Less used muscles of legs in forward walking are actively used in retro walking and hence legs are strengthened.
*Alleviates knee pain of osteoarthritis patients
*Functional mobility of knees is improved considerably
*Hip muscles are strengthened and back pain alleviated
*Improves the balancing of the body and its movements there by reducing the danger of falling down and getting injured, especially in old age.
*Improves cardio respiratory fitness
*Improves body’s metabolism
*More calories are burned out in lesser time and hence body weight can be reduced easily with reduced time for exercise
* Removes boredom creates interest in exercise
*Improves attention and coordination
*Sharpens the memory
*Improves thinking skills and creative abilities
*Improves sharpness of your senses and widens the peripheral vision of eyes
*Enhances your concentration and increases your self-awareness
*make you more vigilant and mindful
* Helps to relieve stress and ensures a good night’s sleep
*Helps to prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s
*Ensures harmonious coordination of body and mind
The ancient spiritual leader, the Buddha advised; ‘Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind in the present moment’. In retro walking you are learning to focus on the activity you are doing. You have to concentrate on each step backward, otherwise you may fall down. You need to be mindful. Retro walking is a powerful exercise that will help you to cultivate the habit of mindfulness which can make you grow spiritually.
John Kabat Zinn, professor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and teacher of mindfulness, points out; ‘Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.’ In retro walking you are more alert and cannot walk mechanically without awareness, without mindfulness. Your body senses and soul simultaneously coordinate and participate in it. Hence retro walking becomes a type of mindfulness meditation that can lift you to higher levels of spiritual experience of perpetual peace and joy. (email@example.com)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV. He is the author of five best-selling books:
‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.
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