It is widely believed that walking is beneficial for health — whether it is brisk, slow, backward, or normal. But have you ever wondered if stride length also plays a role?

According to neurologist Dr Sudhir Kumar, varying stride lengths can indeed help you optimize your walks. “Take shorter or longer steps while walking. For every 1 percent increase in step length variability, there is a 0.7 percent increase in the metabolic cost of walking,” Dr. Kumar wrote on X.

Let’s analyze this with help from experts.

Walking is an effective and easy way to manage weight and overall health. It is a low-impact exercise that can be beneficial in various ways such as in increasing blood flow to the entire body and brain, improving cardiovascular and pulmonary health, and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. “Walking speed can be categorized into 2 variables — stride rate and stride length,” said Dr Anup Khatri, senior consultant, orthopedics, Gleneagles Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.

Stride length refers to the distance covered between consecutive placements of the same foot, while stride rate is the number of steps completed per minute. “Varying stride length can indeed affect your walking efficiency and overall health,” said Dr. Udit Kapoor, orthopedic consultant, Metro Hospital.

Here’s how:

In simple words, stride length is the distance from the heel strike of one foot to the heel strike of the same foot again.

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Dr Khatri explained that ineffective walking stride or poor posture can result in chronic lower back pain, knee pain, and ankle pain. “Stride length is a great tool for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, or people who want to lose weight. This can help them monitor their performance and efficiency in physical activities like running or walking,” said Dr Khatri.

He added that frequent variation in stride length can boost metabolism, helping you burn more calories.

Walking becomes less metabolically taxing and more energy-efficient when one maintains an ideal stride length consistently. “As a result of evenly spreading stress across various muscles and joints and encouraging a well-rounded workout, proper stride variety also helps prevent overuse issues,” elucidated Dr Akhilesh Yadav, associate director – orthopedics and joint replacement, Max Hospital, Vaishali.

How to vary stride length?

You can vary your stride length by consciously taking either shorter or longer steps while walking. “Shorter steps involve more frequent foot placements, while longer steps cover more ground per stride,” said Dr Kapoor, sharing the benefits of varying stride length:

Metabolic efficiency: Research suggests that varying stride length affects the metabolic cost of walking. For instance, shorter steps may be more metabolically costly over time because of increased step frequency.

Joint impact: Varying stride lengths can distribute impact differently across joints, potentially reducing strain on specific areas like the knees or hips.

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Muscle engagement: Different stride lengths engage muscles differently. “Longer strides may engage more of the hamstrings and glutes, while shorter strides may engage calves and shins more,” said Dr. Kapoor.

Varying stride length can make walking more effective. How?

Calorie burning: Longer strides can increase the intensity of walking and burn calories, said Dr. Kapoor.

Endurance: Alternating between longer and shorter strides can improve endurance and stamina.

Overall fitness: By engaging different muscles and varying intensity, walking becomes a more comprehensive exercise.

To avoid training plateaus and maintain the exercise’s excitement, try introducing stride diversity to your walking, said Dr Yadav. “Moreover, the body is better equipped to handle a variety of surfaces and circumstances when walking when they can adjust to diverse stride lengths, which enhances resilient and adaptive walking,” shared Dr Yadav.

Is it for everyone?

Generally, yes. However, Dr Kapoor noted that the optimal stride length varies based on factors like height, leg length, fitness level, and any existing health conditions. “It’s essential to find a stride length that feels comfortable and natural to you,” said Dr. Kapoor.