I saw a woman crossing the street today who is probably in her 60s or 70s. She was hunched forward taking very small steps. Unfortunately, walking did not seem like a comfortable activity for her.
Why is it that when we are young we can take long strides and maintain balance and ease of movement, yet it seems like as we get older our stride length shortens?
Mechanically, the muscles that are pulling us into that forward flexion are called the hip flexors, or psoas. The psoas attaches our femur (upper leg bone) to our lumbar vertebrae (lower back). So when that muscle gets tight we either need to lean forward, or take small steps, or both.
I want to address the "age" issue real quick. There's a presupposition in our culture that as we age we degenerate an deteriorate. Although there are many things that follow this trajectory, the mechanics of your muscles and joints don't have to. You can at least maintain enough strength to walk in an upright way.
The reason why age is correlated with the tight hip flexors is because we have spent more years in a relatively sedentary position. I maintain that sitting is more damaging to our bodies than manual labor. Decades of sitting and sedentary work add up to shortened and tightened hip flexors.
So, there are three things that we need to address here.
Here are some great exercises to accomplish these goals. Try to do this program in order, doing each exercise for 1 minute (1 minute per side if it's a 2-sided exercise).
#1 - Glute contractions
#2 - glute bridges
#3 - Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
#4 - Prone Quad Stretch
#5 - Supine groin stretch
#6 - Runner's Stretch
#7 - superman
These exercises will get you on the path toward better balance and bigger step length when you're walking. We don't have to succumb to the tendencies that come with age. If you are proactive in your prevention, you can open up your stride length and begin to walk with more ease, grace, and comfort. If there's anything I can do to help, Let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.