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Watch Your Step!

Walking is a complex process. It involves your body from head to toes, including several parts of your brain.

Some strides do more than just get you from point A to point B. Your gait, posture, and pace may also be broadcasting clues about your health and personality.

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Fast Pace

Longer life: Studies on people over 65 show that a natural need for speed when walking tends to mean you'll live longer. But it doesn't work in reverse; you can't expect to extend your years if you push yourself to move quickly. It's likely a slow stride reflects underlying issues that may be taking a toll on your overall health.

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Veering Left

Anxiety: When you're tense and worried, you're less likely to be right -- when you walk, that is. Researchers tracking peoples' movements as they walked blindfolded found that the more stressed someone felt, the farther left they strayed when aiming for a target straight ahead. This may be because the right side of your brain is working harder to handle your doubts and dread.

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Tip-Toe

Mechanical trouble: It's normal for a young kid to walk on their toes as they learn to be upright in the world. But if that doesn't stop as they get older, it can mean their Achilles tendon is too short to let their heel touch the ground comfortably. Or it could be a sign of muscle issues like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Toe-walking is also common in kids with autism.

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Limping

Osteoarthritis: An unexpected or unnoticed injury could cause a limp, but it could also be a sign of something more. If you're favoring one leg over the other, or if your legs seem to be buckling from time to time when you walk, you may be showing symptoms of the type of arthritis that wears away your joints over time.

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Off-Balance

Alcohol abuse: The line-walking test that police give possible drunk drivers on the side of the road can help you tell whether someone's brain is able to keep them steady when they walk. Alcohol abuse can lead to things like muscle weakness and loss of your sense of orientation. This causes an uneven, stumbling walk, even if you're not drunk. After you give up drinking, you'll likely get better at moving around, though it may take a while.

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Slapping Steps

Weak muscles: If it looks like you're climbing invisible stairs, you may have foot drop. This typically causes your toes to drag as you walk, and you may step higher to make up for it. It's more common for only one foot to be floppy, but sometimes it can affect both. It may mean you've injured a nerve in your leg, or it could be a sign of a nerve, muscle, brain, or spinal disorder like muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis.

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Slower Than You Used to Be

Alzheimer's disease: Scientists say changes in the speed of your walk over time could be one way to predict whether Alzheimer's or other memory problems are on your horizon. If Alzheimer's is behind the downtick, the trend will continue as the disease gets worse.

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Monthly Variations

Fertility: Could your menstrual cycle be subtly signaling the opposite sex the best time to make a baby? Studies point to yes. Men watched the silhouettes of women dancing and walking during different times in their cycle. They were much more likely to find the women attractive when they were at their most fertile.

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Swaying

Brain injury: Do you rock back and forth to keep it together as you walk? Assuming it's not an alcohol problem, you may want to have a doctor take a look at your head. A knock to your noggin can cause mild brain damage that makes the world spin for a while. Athletes, take note -- this is common among people who play contact sports.

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Moving One Whole Side Together

Bad back: It might mean a thing if you ain't got that swing! When you've pulled a muscle or have a herniated disc in your lower back, you're likely to turn your chest and shoulders to match your hips as you stroll, to avoid twisting. Your arms will sway with your legs as you walk briskly, instead of the opposite hand and foot being ahead of you at the same time.

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Dragging Your Feet

Parkinson's disease: Slow, scraping footsteps -- especially if you're a man over 60 -- can be a sign that your brain is having a hard time getting the "move" message to your leg muscles. Shuffled steps in a bent-over posture with little to no arm motion is often called the "Parkinson's gait." It's very common among people with the disease.

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Long Stride

Vaginal orgasms: Sexperts have a fairly easy time pinpointing women who can climax from a penis inside their vagina just by the way they walk. Turns out, that sexual response means you're more likely to have a flexible pelvis and backbone, and therefore a wider and more telltale stride.

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Stiff, Twisted, Unsteady Gait

Multiple sclerosis: A condition like MS can show up as several specific weaknesses in your walk. You may move with stiff, swinging steps with toes pointed inward, or you may lose your balance more often. Your knees may cross when you walk, which doctors call "scissoring." Or you may lose feeling in your feet, making it hard to know where the floor is.

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Plodding

Depression: This mental illness may feel like a heavy weight on your shoulders, and your walk can show it. It's not unusual for depression to make you walk with slow, short steps. Luckily, it's not permanent -- you'll get more pep in your step as your mood improves. Studies show you can even lift your spirits by walking briskly, as if you were happy. Your posture helps reroute your thoughts toward the positive. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/17/2017 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on December 17, 2017

SOURCES:

JAMA: "Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults."

Cognition: "Walking blindfolded unveils unique contributions of behavioural approach and inhibition to lateral spatial bias."

Mayo Clinic: "Toe walking in children," "Foot drop," "Parkinson's disease."

Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: "Altered Gait Characteristics in Individuals With Knee Osteoarthritis and Self-Reported Knee Instability."

Psychiatry: "Gait and its assessment in psychiatry."

NIAAA Alcohol Alert: "Cognitive Impairment and Recovery From Alcoholism."

Medscape Medical News: "Walking Irregularities a Harbinger of Cognitive Decline?"

Personality and Individual Differences: "Women's body movements are a potential cue to ovulation."

Journal of Athletic Training: "Previous Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Postural-Control Dynamics."

European Spine Journal: "Gait adaptations in low back pain patients with lumbar disc herniation: trunk coordination and arm swing."

Brain: "Mechanisms underlying gait disturbance in Parkinson's disease: A single photon emission computed tomography study."

Gait Posture: "Arm Swing Magnitude and Asymmetry During Gait in the Early Stages of Parkinson's Disease."

Journal of Sexual Medicine: "A Woman's History of Vaginal Orgasm is Discernible from Her Walk."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Walking (Gait) Difficulties."

Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry: "How we walk affects what we remember: Gait modifications through biofeedback change negative affective memory bias."

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on December 17, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.