Walk it Off

This month I want to talk about the seriously underrated practice of walking. It’s something that we all take for granted say like breathing but like breathing if we stop walking and using our legs it can lead to serious health issues. So that movie got it wrong… “Dead Man Not Walking”.

First lets look at the mechanics of walking and it’s benefits. Did you know you have a second heart besides the one in your chest? It’s one of the calf muscles in your lower legs known as the soleus. It’s main job besides flexing your ankle as you push off to take a step is sending blood from the lower extremities back up to the heart. It’s important to know that the heart works pushing oxygenated blood out to the entire body but has a lesser roll in returning the blood back to the lungs for more oxygen. When you’re standing the pressure pushing blood up the veins towards the heart is barely enough to overcome the force of gravity pushing it back down. So if you contract/flex your soleus (and the other calf muscles) as in walking, running ect., this action compress’ the vein in your lower leg to send your blood back on it’s way to the heart. The flow of lymph in the body is circulated by similar actions throughout the body.

You may say “That’s nice but I really don’t want to live forever and while I’m here for this short visit on this plane of existence all I really want is to look as attractive as I possibly can on the outside.” Well guess what, walking is beneficial for that too! When trying to stay trim or loose weight everyone knows you need to exercise but few people know the profound effect of taking a simple hour long walk on fat burning and maintaining muscle structure. When muscles are inactive, they are easily attacked for conversion into glucose by the liver when it’s doing its job maintaining proper blood glucose levels to keep us alive. However if muscles are used on a regular basis, they begin to metabolize some of their stored fat as a choice source of energy to exert their force and maintain or increase their bulk. To do this they begin to activate a fat-breaking enzyme, hormone sensitive lipase. It has been shown in repeated blood tests in Sweden (those Swedes…) that this enzymes activity is seen after one hour’s walk and it retains it’s fat-breaking activity for 12 hours! (1 for 12 what a deal!). With repeated walks, the activity of the fat-burning enzymes becomes much more pronounced.

Back to the health aspect again, it is this same lipase (fat-burning enzyme) in the blood circulation that also cleans the blood vessel walls of plaques and deposits which build up to patch and repair damaged vessel walls. Now we’re getting into the subject of a future article about big Fat lies.

So now that you have a new appreciation for walking… just do it. Walk instead of drive when you can and make it enjoyable. Go outside and walk in nature. This is much needed medicine in our culture and I hope you have a new found appreciation for this mobile movement which our bodies were specifically designed for. Stay well.

Sources for this article include:

Your body’s many cries for water- F. Batmanghelidj M.D.

Introduction to the Human Body, Essentials of A&P- Tortora and Derrickson