- Researchers say walking for as little as 2 minutes after a meal can help with digestion and lower blood sugar levels.
- Experts say it’s important to begin a walking routine by knowing your physical limitations and how far and how often you can walk without injury.
- They add you can enhance your exercise routine by listening to an audiobook or meditating while walking.
A light 2-minute walk after eating can help lower blood sugar and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
That’s according to a new meta-analysis of seven studies from researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland.
The review results suggest the best time to walk is within 60 to 90 minutes after eating. This is the window when blood sugar levels typically peak.
Study participants were divided into standing and walking groups. Both groups were made to engage in their activity for 2 to 5 minutes every 20 to 30 minutes over the course of a day.
Researchers said even just a few minutes of light-intensity slow walking was enough to create a noteworthy drop in blood sugar levels for study participants.
Significantly, walking after eating was associated with a more gradual rise and fall in blood sugar levels than sitting or even standing.
In five of seven studies, study participants had no prior history of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. The two other studies examined people with and without diabetes.
People with obesity in the study experienced significant results in blood sugar reduction from standing after eating as compared to sitting, too. There was no noteworthy effect on insulin or blood pressure levels, though.
The researchers also suggested that walking for a longer period of time after a meal can provide additional benefits.
A short, light-intensity walk after eating is beneficial to people with high blood pressure or diabetes.
Walking and standing can positively affect glucose metabolism, according to Haley Perlus, PhD, an athlete, coach, fitness professional, and sports psychology expert.
“Glucose is released into the bloodstream after meals and results in a small spike in blood sugar levels. While small sugar spikes are not abnormal, maintaining sugar levels is quintessential in managing diabetes,” Dr. Haley told Healthline.
“With the active engagement of muscles in walking, your muscles will soak up the excess glucose found in the bloodstream,” she explained. “Better blood flow is vital for your muscles, limbs, and organs, resulting in a healthier vascular system.”
The after-dinner walk also releases serotonin, which aids in better sleep, a more regulated appetite, boosts a positive mindset, and increases memory, said Perlus.
Dr. Danine Fruge, medical director of Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida, told Healthline the meta-analysis highlights multiple studies that prove what they have witnessed firsthand at the Pritikin Center for decades: Even light activity that breaks up sedentary periods has significant health benefits that can be felt and measured often within the first 24 to 48 hours of participation.
Amber Kivett, LAT, ATC, CSCS, FMS, FMT, head of health and wellness at Lifepro Vibration Therapy and Recovery Equipment as well as the founder and president of Kivett Kinetic Solutions, says that while the study does confirm what’s been theoretically presented over the past decade among health professionals, she has some concerns about study limitations.
Those limitations, she says, could actually present problems for certain people.
“Part of my expertise is seeing patients/clients on a regular basis requiring total knee or total hip replacements for pain management caused by the degeneration of the specific joint,” Kivett told Healthline.
“Most of those patients/clients present overweight or obese and are unable to ambulate with a normal gait pattern, pain-free,” she noted.
“If it is recommended by a medical practitioner or training coach to walk lightly for a given time period each day, and that individual is suffering from pain associated with walking, it will naturally increase inflammation, increase stress hormones, and cause more challenges on the entire body metabolically and neurologically,” she added.
She shares several other concerns about the study, including a lack of information about how cognitive stress plays a role in the results.
“Many Americans are pushing the sympathetic nervous system due to cognitive stress levels, blue light stress on the brain, limited sleep, and toxic lifestyles and environments,” said Kivett.
The testing groups should also be including those with other autoimmune conditions since that includes most Americans, Kivett added.
Despite any perceived study limitations, Kivett says walking after eating has many known benefits.
“Whether you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or you’re a ‘healthy’ or athletic individual, enjoying a short, light-intensity walk post meal promotes an overall improvement in health,” she said.
According to Kivett, these benefits include:
- gut regulation
- lymphatic system optimization for eliminating wastes and mobilizing lymph/fluid
- circulation flow increase to all extremities with an exchange of fresh blood flow
- “happy hormones” release, including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and natural endorphins/pain killers, which lowers stress hormones in the body
- increased fat metabolism by keeping the heart rate in a lower intensity zone, while minimizing the stimulation of cortisol
- reduced inflammation onset by lowering stress hormones
Kivett offers the following advice on integrating walking into your post-meal routine.
Make it enjoyable
Make the experience more enjoyable with your favorite entertainment.
- Listen to an audiobook as you walk.
- Watch your favorite TV series as you walk on the treadmill.
- Turn on some upbeat music and walk to the pace of the music, all it takes is 2 or 3 songs.
“Use your nightly walks as a time to reflect on the day through visual meditation,” Kivett suggests.
“Meditation is a powerful way to engage your parasympathetic nervous system and lower cortisol and stress hormones to maximize sleep,” she added.
“Consider the task as a habitual part of your bedtime routine to optimize sleep, which in turn, enhances fat loss and promotes recovery,” she says.
Think about those ‘happy hormones’
Kivett suggests reminding yourself that walking helps to release the “happy hormones” at the end of a stressful day.
“Releasing these hormones can boost mood and make you a happier, more patient parent or spouse,” she says.
You don’t always have to walk to meet your activity goals, either.
Fruge suggests that during your everyday routine at home or at work, keep looking for easy opportunities to move your body while you’re waiting for something else.
Examples from Fruge include:
- dancing during commercials or ads
- marching in place while doing the dishes
- doing jumping jacks while you’re waiting for water to boil or food to cook, etc.
- lifting the laundry basket or the shopping bags a few times with each arm
- pacing while you’re on the phone
- setting a reminder to stand up from your desk and stretch for five minutes every hour
- as a passenger in a car, train, plane, or bus, try shoulder shrugs, bicep curls, squeeze ball for grip strength, seated marching, ankle circles, and gentle neck/trunk twisting in your seat