In any given city across China, by the time the sun has risen, the local park is already brimming with morning exercisers, performing their preferred fitness routine. Especially older Chinese citizens practice daily exercises to maintain health and ensure longevity. Some practice various forms of what we know as “Tai chi,” and what they call “tai ji quan.” Some practice long-loved traditional dances such as “yang ge” or fan dancing, and some engage in unique activities you may not even have known qualify as exercise: walking backwards, vigorous clapping, hoisting a leg up onto a post and slapping it silly, and even swinging your bird cage as you walk – that way, both your arms and your bird get a work out!
“Liu zao” or morning walk isn’t just a favorite pastime throughout China; Chinese culture holds it as an essential for good health. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening,” and modern medical science seems to support ancient Chinese wisdom. Exercising in a state of fast (read: before eating breakfast!) provokes the body to burn a greater percentage of fat for fuel during exercise, instead of drawing on our body’s sources of carbohydrates, which is good news for those of us looking to lose weight. Exercising in the morning also “jumpstarts” your metabolism because your body continues to burn calories at a rate faster than if you were sedentary, so your body uses the calories you consume later on in the day more efficiently.
In China, walking backwards has long been a popular choice. Even China’s ancient Mountain and Sea Scriptures record the exploits of an immortal who walked backwards to journey around the world. Studies have suggested that walking backwards shows almost a 95% reversal of the use of muscles in your back, waist, thighs and lower legs as compared with forward walking. It exercises the muscles that our legs have the rare opportunity to use, such as the tibialis anterior muscles that make up our calves. While this key player calve muscle acts as a “shock absorber” in regular forward walking, in moving backwards, the tibialis anteriors play a much more integral role, giving it a better workout, thereby developing more defined calves. Walking backwards also helps give those body parts we use every day in our lives of forward walking a break – rather than putting so much strain on our heels, walking backwards allows our toes to take over for a while. Your knees will thank you, too. When walking backwards, the maximum range of motion of your knees is significantly smaller. Some Chinese even believe that walking backwards holds benefits for the soul as well, like a “karmic reversal,” correcting the mistakes and sins of your past
So not only does walking backwards have a positive effect on your health, but, as the Chinese believe, it also benefits your spiritual wellness. Looking for an even greater challenge for your tibialis anteriors? Try walking backwards uphill.