9 Surprising Health Benefits of Walking Backwards

Walking is a common and effective form of exercise, but there’s a lesser-known activity that has been gaining traction recently—walking backward. This unconventional exercise offers numerous benefits that challenge your body and mind in unique ways you’ll never expect. From improving balance and coordination to enhancing brain cognition, here are 9 surprising health benefits of walking backward.

A healthy woman standing on the walkway beside the windows.
Photo credit: DepositPhotos.

1. Improves Balance and Coordination

Walking backward can improve your balance and coordination in a way that forward walking does not. This is because your brain has to work differently to process the spatial information, leading to improved coordination and stability. One study used backward walking as a training method which resulted in enhanced balance among school-aged boys, helping them avoid injury from falling.

2. Strengthens Leg Muscles

Backward walking engages different muscles than forward walking, particularly targeting the quadriceps and hamstrings. This makes your legs work harder and helps build more muscle in your lower body. This can lead to improved strength and endurance, which can reduce the risk of leg injuries.

A great alternative to your walking routine walking backwards helps develop the muscles on the back of the legs (your hamstrings and glutes) along with improving ankle mobility. Adding this to your routine can help improve posture and reduce injuries and pain.

Shelby Stover, CSCS FitAsAMamaBear.com

3. Joint Health and Reduced Impact

Walking backward is a low-impact exercise, making it a gentler workout on the joints compared to other high-impact activities. It can be a valuable alternative for those with joint issues or arthritis. Backward walking can also ease knee pain from illnesses like knee osteoarthritis and runner’s knee. This is also why physical therapists recommend walking backward on a treadmill as a part of rehabilitation programs.

4. Improved Memory and Cognition

Your brain plays an important role in backward walking because, unlike forward walking which is an automatic process, walking backward requires increased attention and concentration. This stimulates your brain and can lead to improved cognitive function and memory retention. A study on cognition showed that people who walk backward are better at recalling past events than those who don’t. 

5. Burns More Calories than Forward Walking

Since backward walking makes your muscles work harder, it also burns more calories than forward walking. A study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that walking backward burns more calories than brisk walking. Thus, incorporating backward walking into your exercise routine can help improve your overall fitness.

Walking in autumn leaves.
Photo credit: DepositPhotos.

6. Improves Proprioception

Walking backward challenges your body’s proprioception, which is the body’s ability to know where it is in space with a sense of its position, location, orientation, and movement. Proper proprioception is important for maintaining balance, coordination, and body awareness, enabling effective movement and preventing injuries.

7. Variety and Mental Health

Walking backward is a great way to change up your regular exercise routine. This will help keep you motivated and prevent exercise boredom. Plus, a study by the American Psychological Association shows that staying physically active reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Backward walking doesn’t just contribute to your physical health, it also has positive effects on your mental health.

8. Posture Improvement

A healthy woman smiling confidently.
Woman smiling. Photo credit: DepositPhotos.

Walking backward encourages a more upright posture, as it engages the spine and shoulders to maintain balance. A study in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine found that backward walking contributes to improving postural control and muscle activation in the lower back and core. This can be particularly beneficial for those with back pain from spending hours sitting or working at a desk. 

9. Enhances Cardiovascular Health

Although backward walking doesn’t elevate your heart rate as much as other intense workouts, it still provides cardiovascular benefits. A study reported that walking backward can lead to a moderate increase in heart rate and oxygen consumption, contributing to cardiovascular fitness. This is particularly relevant for those seeking low-impact cardiovascular exercise. 

Walking backward is a unique and effective form of exercise that helps you enhance your balance, strength, and flexibility. It can even sharpen your brain and improve your mental health. It’s an excellent addition to your workout, but you must always check with your healthcare provider before you start backward walking or any exercise for that matter.

Leave a Comment