Active Seniors

The surprising benefits of hills

There are very few places in Australia where you can embark on a 15+ minute walk and avoid any sort of change in elevation. Fortunately, walking up and down hill provides us with great benefits. Each direction has a different and unique benefit that we will explore below. 

Walking up a hill or incline

Cardiovascular fitness

It should be no surprise to anyone that walking uphill is great for the heart and lungs. When you look at your heart rate and breathing rate while walking on a flat level, and then compare it to walking uphill, you will notice an increase in both breathing and heart rate as you start to climb. 

Ankle mobility

What many people don’t realise, is that walking uphill is also great for your ankle mobility. Our ankles tend to be one of the joints that stiffen up very easily. The age-old phrase “use it or lose it” says it all. The less we move into deep squat positions or crouch on the ground, the less bending the ankles experience and the more they stiffen up over time. While moving into deep knee bending positions is not comfortable for many people, the same ankle bend can be achieved when you walk up a hill. Next time you are walking up hill, notice the difference in ankle position when walking up hill compared to on the flat. To get the most out of your ankles, while walking uphill try to make sure that you don’t allow the toes to point to the sides too far as this is a common method the body uses when it doesn’t have the mobility it needs in the ankle. 

Walking down a hill

While walking down a hill we often see this as a good opportunity to “catch our breath”.  However don’t be fooled into thinking that downhill walking is easy on the body. While it reduces the load on the heart and lungs, downhill walking actually increases the load on the muscles significantly. 

Our muscles work in 3 different ways; to shorten and produce movement, to stay the same length and hold a position, and to lengthen while slowing or braking our movement. Walking downhill causes our muscles to lengthen while slowing us down, to control the momentum that is created by the downhill itself. This places a lot more stress on the muscles and the connective tissues, as they go against their natural desire to contract as they shorten. This additional stress is one of the main reasons you will feel more muscle discomfort after walking downhill, than you will when walking on a flat.

Try this out yourself!

Try to choose a walk that has more uphills than downhills, and then try to choose a walk that has the opposite (more downhills). Compare how you felt the day after each. It is surprising to feel more discomfort on the walk with more downhills as we make the assumption that walking downhill should be easier. 

Keep working on increasing those steps as best you can throughout Steptember and where possible vary your walking to include some good up and downhills. Don’t forget to register your steps on our website for your chance to win!

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