Why Do We Swing Our Arms When We Walk

Swinging Arms and Walking

We swing our arms while we walk
We swing our arms while we walk | Source

Walking Upright is Uniquely Human

The ability to walk upright is uniquely human, and sets us apart from well over 200 species of living primates. It is an obvious part of our evolution, and distinctly differentiates us from the apes. Once a child learns to walk, walking becomes our primary form of locomotion.

What your body does when you're working on your walking:
When we stand, we use very few muscles of our back and our lower limbs. Usually our hip and knee joints are extended and in a stable position. Walking is a complicated and complex activity, yet it is mostly done automaticlly. That is why disturbances in walking are indicative of some dysfunctions of the central nervous systems.

Here is a shortened version of some of the muscles and bones involved in walking. Walking involves moving the lower limbs, with a combination of swing and stance and striking our heel against the ground. First one foot, then the next foot. The muscles of the feet relax to lower the foot and then transfer weight through the foot and even to the big toe. Our knee is able to lock when our leg is fully extended and enables our weight to transfer to the ankle, which helps control our feet when they hit the ground.

Swinging Our Arms While Walking is Natural

Arm swinging is an obvious characteristic when people walk and run. When we walk and swing our arms we save energy that is needed to walk if our arms did not move while we are in motion. Moving our arms while we walk makes it easier for our legs too. The force by which we contact the ground increases by 63% if our arms are in motion.

Researchers have been trying to discover the explanation for arm swinging while we walk.

It used to be thought that swinging our arms was a vestige left over from an ancestors who walked on all fours. Biomechanincal engineers at the University of Michigan, discovered that swinging arms is a natural part of walking on 2 legs. Scientists discovered that arm swinging requires little effort from the muscles and is not muscle driven. It is part of the locomotion of the body moving and walking. In experiments, they discovered that people who kept the arms steady took more effort to walk.

People who moved their arms walked 20% faster. Swinging our arms is so natural, that letting them swing actually requires less energy than if you were to hold your arms down while walking.

The Benefits of Moving Our Arms and Walking

Our arms move in sync with our legs. If our arms swing out of sync with our legs, it made the effort of walking more difficult. Alternately moving our arms out of sync makes our legs work twice as hard. Scientists at Delft University in the Netherlands believe people who don’t swing their arms in conjunction with their legs, have the possibility of veering off course and putting a bigger burden on their body and energy.

While studying volunteers on a treadmill, scientists monitored their metabolism. People who moved their arm and leg on the same side used 26% more energy because our muscles battle to keep us on course.

The scientists hope to use this information to help patients who are learning to walk again after illness or injury.

Through observation, researchers have learned that arm swinging is a function of the movement from the lower part of our body, as opposed to being powered by our shoulders.

For quite a while the movement of our armswhile walking, baffled scientists because it seemed to play no obvious role or purpose. Using a mechanical model to see what arm swinging did, and using 10 volunteers who walked 3 different ways, with their arms swinging normally, with their arms at their side, and with their arms swinging in sync with each leg, scientists made several observations.

It took 12% more energy than if their arms were held still than if they moved them. When they moved their left arm with their left leg, and then their right arm and right leg, they used 26% more energy because their muscles worked harder to keep this motion going.

Swinging our arms also keeps our body balanced. By moving our arms, we can walk in a straighter path, and it helped us walk in a smoother motion.

Arm Movement and Parkinson's Disease

Scientists are now believing that people who move their arms irregularly, may be showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Neurologists think that this early detection might help doctors use treatments that could slow the damage to brain cells and buy some time until science comes up with ways to slow the progression of this disease. By watching the manner in which a person walks, they may see certain indicators of early onset of this disease. By observing people with Parkinson’s rearchers determined that they may swing their arms differently from each other. They may move one arm less than the other as they walk.

Early in the disease, it has been noted that people lose their arm swing. In a study done by Dr Xuemei Huang, associate professor of neurology, Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, they researched the relationship of this disease to walking. Researchers compared the arm swing of a dozen Parkinson’s patients, to 8 people who did not have this disease.

The individuals with Parkinson’s were told to stop taking medications the night before the research study was to be done. Special equipment was used to measure the movements with accuracy. A computer measured the degree of their arm swings and found that one arm swung much less than the other, no matter what speed they walked. Some people, when they walk may have slightly different arm swings, but those with Parkinson’s disease, had significant differences in their arm swings.

The disease is diagnosed in people suspected with Parkinson’s by tremors at rest amd stiffness in their limbs and their body. By the time the disease is diagnosed significant neurons have already been adversely affected. It is already well known that in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, there are changes in a person’s walking pattern and gait.

Ahh... To Be Human

Walking is a gift few us may think about doing, unless we lose that ability. Very often we give little thought to this power of locomotion. Yet, the coordination of our brain, spinal cord, muscles and bones, and swinging of our arms is a complex process. Science is always looking to understand more about the human body. From yawning to hiccups, and many other things, science is looking to explain more about our anatomy.

From standing upright to moving from point to point, to the balance it takes to accomplish this activity, walking upright is unique and special to human beings, something we should be very grateful for.

What Do You Do?

Do You Move Your Arms While You Walk?

  • Yes
  • No
See results without voting

More by this Author


Comments 24 comments

CSNewYork profile image

CSNewYork 4 years ago from New Jersey

Very interesting hub. Enjoyed reading it. I don't even think about moving my arms while walking, it just happens. Next time im going to pay attention to it. Great hub.


Justsilvie 4 years ago

Very Interesting Hub!


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi my friend,very interesting and useful information within this well written hub . Well done !

Vote up and more !!!


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States

Interesting information. You always write on unusual topics. Now I wonder how swinging or not swinging uses up energy while I exercise!


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi CS, I am glad I got you thinking. Since you are especially interested in sports, it would probably be interesting to watch how the athletes swing their arms. In fact, when I watch the Olympics tonite, I'm going to see how the athletes movetheir arms too.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Justsil vie, Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your kind comments and for stopping by. I hope it helped you learn a new thing or two.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Virginia,

Swinging your arms will always use up more calories. I try to write about unusual topics, whenever I can, but the credit for this hub goes to my daughter and her friend, who decided to ask each other wacky questions and try to answer them.


psychicdog.net profile image

psychicdog.net 4 years ago

what a great title 4 a hub TKI! I always look out for people swinging in synch with the music in my car. Also, yes walking with your arms out of synch with legs is difficult I agree but it can be FUN! LOL


kissayer profile image

kissayer 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

What an interesting hub! Great work :)


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi PD, It is true how much fun it can be to confuse our bodies. I am glad you liked the title and am happy you stopped by.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Kristy, Thanks for your ind comments. I am glad you stopped by.


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 4 years ago from New York City

I enjoyed learning about such a simple thing as walking and why we humans swing our arms, I knew though it had to deal with balance and stabilization some how.

Now running and moving our arms is also a cool thing to think about, you got me thinking now, hehe!

I also like the part of your hub here, where you bring out the significance of us just taking it all for granted until something happens to hinder our ability to walk, that really is what happens to folks, we all tend to think differently when injuries occur, or disease sets in.

Nicely written, all your research was pretty intense as well, and so it scores on the useful side of voting for me as well.

Voted up and getting shared for sure, and I love the image you chose to present this cool hub as well.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi CloudE, Thank you so much for the many compliments you bestowed on me. I am so glad you enjoyed this hub and that I got you thinking. Thanks for stopping by, it is always nice to see you.


Lovelovemeloveme profile image

Lovelovemeloveme 4 years ago from Cindee's Land

thanks for the hub! now im slightly paranoid. Im going to start pacing back and forth to make sure my arms are moving lol. and if they're not, imma make sure they do from now on hahaa


chloelozano 4 years ago

Interesting Hub! When I walk swinging my arms makes me feel like I am a getting a better workout and am more powerful. I did know that a lack of arms swing could signify illness. I learned something new today :)


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Love, I hope I didn't make you too self conscious about walking. As long as you are not falling over or knocking into things, you can probably continue to walk as you always have. LOL. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi Chloe, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am glad my hub taught you something new.


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

Well done, I really learned a lot here. You made something that we take for granted very interesting. Thanks for the share


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 4 years ago Author

Hi LoN, Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am glad you learned a few things too.


VivaLaVina 3 years ago

This is the most interesting article I've ever read. Especially the title caught my attention and I just came by and read it. I remember I asked my mom the same question too when I was a little girl, and she just answered me, "Well, you'll walk faster if you swing your arms when you walk, that's just how God created us. You can choose not to swing but that will not only slow down your pace, but you'll feel awkward and heavy and your legs will need to use more energy to drag your body." And like you've mentioned in your article that we're just human and enjoy being one!


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 3 years ago Author

Hi Viva, your kind words put a smile on my face and I appreciate you coming by and commenting.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Very interesting hub! I am pretty sure that I am moving my arms when I run but I never thought about it when I am walking. I heard that if someone would walk with small weights around his/her wrists, that person would use more energy for sure. So that's for sure a good way to benefit from the natural movement of the arms.

I was fascinated about what you are writing with the arm movement and Parkinson's disease. It would be a great way to diagnose Parkinson's disease earlier and help the patients! It shows that we don't always need complicated test for diagnoses!

Thank you for sharing this hub! Great info!

Definitely voted up and interesting!


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 23 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi, This is a very interesting hub. I was diagnosed with Parkinson last year by the way I walked. A great hub, glad you wrote it. Stella

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working