We walk without thinking about it. But it turns out, walking helps our bodies in several interesting ways that may surprise you.

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

There is a constant, complex dance of molecules in our body. Rushing to and fro. Some are doing good, others not so much. And it turns out, walking plays a huge role. Research has even been done on walking and its impacts on breast cancer in the form of the estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer which is seen in about two thirds of all cases.

Basically, estrogen circulate in the bloodstream causes breast cell tissues to grow and divide and this is normal. Sometimes mutations occur and it’s not a big deal. Sometimes it is. A mutation could for example, occur that causes those tissues to settle in the lungs, heart or brain. This is called metastasis with the result being stage IV breast cancer.

The Canadian Cancer Society predicted in 2020 that over 27,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,100 will die as a result. Some 240 men will be diagnosed and 55 will die.

But research is showing that a daily walk can play a huge role in prevention. The research suggests that walking routinely lowers the levels of estrogen circulating in the blood. The Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, WA, showed in 2016 that exercise increaes the body’s production of of a molecule known as the sex hormone binding globulin. The molecule attaches itself to estrogen, reducing the concentration in the blood by 10% to 15%, thus reducing the chances of mutation in breast tissue.

Even if a mutation does occur and breast cancer appears, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson centre found that just an hour of walking a week can reduce the chances of dying by 40%. Another study by Saudi researchers Dr. Ezzeldin Ibrahim and Dr. Abdelaziz Al-Homaidh put that number at 50%. That’s significant.

Cardiovascular diseases are another major cause of death in Canada and research has shown that a routine walk can help stave off those affects as well. Frequent walkers have lower heart rates abd blood pressure than sedentary folks.

In cultures where walking daily is a significant part of their lifestyle, such as the Hadza of northern Tanzania and the Bolivian Tismané, have almost no hint of heart disease and five times less blockage of the arteries. Diet also plays a role but not like you’d think. This was uncovered by Duke university anthropologist Dr. Herman Pontzer who assumed that cultures like the Hadza just use a lot more energy than Americans do who spend hours a day staring at screens.

What he found was surprising. The Hadza used the same amount of energy every day as the average American couch potato. How is that even possible?

A common myth is that walking helps us lose weight. It does not. Humans are so efficient at walking that a person who weighs 68 Kg would have to walk at least 82 kilometres to lose a single kilogram! Humans around the world use the same daily energy allowance, in different ways. The key, it turns out, is our body’s inflammatory response.

Our body’s inflammation response is the way it recruits what are called macrophages to fight infection or repair injuries. The word macrophage means “big eaters” and they’re vital to our immune system. They make an infection fighting protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF.) This protein has many roles including telling the hypothalamus to increase body temperature when we’re overrun by a virus or bacteria, or what we’d call a fever. TNF is also our body’s version of ibuprofen.

But when our TNF levels are too high, they can cause problems, such as heart disease. Dr. Stoyan Dimitrov of the University of Tubingen in Germany found that walking can help lower the overproduction of TNF. Even a brisk 20 minute walk can help reduce production by 5%.

Our organs make various molecules in our bodies and release them into the bloodstream as a method of talking to other organs. Scientists have now discovered over a hundred molecules that our body makes and that walking plays a key role in helping to distribute them around our bodies. More work is being done and scientists are discovering more proteins including interleukin-6, which mobilizes cells that are cancer killers.

So. Get out there for a walk. Science shows that walking around 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot, but we only walk an average of 5,100 steps a day. That’s not enough. Just a brisk 20 minute walk can make a difference. Put your shoes on and go!

Discover More: Check out this informative article on the power of collagen.

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