If you tend to veer to the left while walking, could be you’re anxious. And if you are an introvert, then you probably walk slower than someone who is an extrovert. These are just some insights gleaned from a wide variety of studies conducted on how we walk, or “gait analysis” as the field is known.
Indeed, the analysis of how we walk – first conducted by Greek philosopher Aristotle who used a reed filled with ink to track a person’s gait – has for years been a subject of interest for researchers, psychologists, sociologists, and physical therapists alike.
In 1935, German psychologist Werner Wolff, conducted an experiment in which he filmed eight people taking part in a task. He then asked a group of volunteers to guess the personality of the participants, based just on the video and the way the subjects walked. Interestingly, the volunteers often came up with similar conclusions: someone was deemed by several members of the group as an “attention gainer” for example, and another as “insecure.” This suggests that all of us tend to form initial opinions of others based on how they walk.
Since then, the subject of walk has been studied even more scientifically and is now used mainly to assess and treat individuals with conditions affecting their mobility and other functions.
Modern day gait analysis is done by measuring some very specific aspects of walking patterns, including:
Speed: This indicates how fast you walk. A variety of studies correlate a slow gait speed with deteriorating health. An average walking speed of less than 3.3 ft/sec. is also correlated with an increased risk of falls.
Step rate: This is also known as cadence or the number of steps per minute. Step rate typically increases with speed. Normal cadence for an adult is 102-113 steps/minute.
Step-length asymmetry: Steps with the right foot and left foot are not of equal length, and this divergence increases if there are lower-extremity joint problems. The step length for a normal adult is around 2 ft to 2.3 ft.
Stride length: A stride is the distance from the heel strike of one foot to the next heel strike of the same foot. A normal stride length for an adult is between 4.3 ft to 4.8 ft.
Hip range: This is the range of motion required of the hip to produce a healthy step. The normal range of motion in a full stride is about 40 degrees.
Consistency: This measure studies how similar steps are to one another. Steps should generally be consistent.
Double support: This is the amount of time both feet are in contact with the ground at the same time. The slower one walks, the longer the double support time will be. Running has zero double-support time, as both feet are never on the ground at the same time.
External factors, both physical and emotional, also impact how we walk, and should be taken into account when analyzing one’s gait. A walk on sand will be different than on asphalt for example. And if you are in an open space, your gait will be different than if you were walking on a crowded city street. Studies have also shown that we walk differently if we know we are being watched – thus gait analysis is best done when people are not aware it is happening!
So, what does the way you walk say about you? A plethora of scientific studies have shed some interesting insights:
- The faster you walk, the longer you may live
According to a study from the Mayo Clinic, those who walk at a brisk pace (defined as at least 3 miles per hour) tend to live longer.
- Are you happy, sad, or afraid?
In 2009, a study was conducted to measure the differences in walk based on emotions. The study focused on four main feelings: anger, fear, sadness and happiness, and found that emotions affect different gait parameters. For example, an angry person walks at a speed more than twice as fast as a person who is scared.
- Your walk speed can hint at your cognitive function
A study published in 2019, completed over the course of five decades, showed a correlation between walk speed and cognitive function. Slow gait at the age of 45 can indicate accelerated ageing and reduced brain volume later on in life.
- Veering left? You may be anxious
As mentioned, researchers have also found that when you are tense and anxious, you are more likely to veer to the left. This is because we manage threatening situations on the right side of the brain, leading individuals to walk in a leftward trajectory.
Walking is not just a great way to stay healthy – as it improves cardiovascular fitness, cuts back on body fat and can enhance cognitive functioning – it also says a lot more about you than you might have thought. So, if you are having trouble walking, make sure to see a doctor or physical therapist: You may just walk away with insights or treatment that can lead you down the path towards healthier living.
Hila Glick, BPT, has 10+ years of experience with rehabilitation, treating neurological, chronic, and acute adult orthopedic patients. Hila is also experienced in treating orthopedic and sports related injuries. Currently serving as OneStep’s VP of Physical Therapy and Patient Experience, Hila is committed to provide the best physical therapy patient experience that OneStep has to offer.