Walking after a meal, says popular wisdom, helps with digestion and clears the mind. Doctors also agree that taking a 15-minute walk after a meal can lower blood sugar levels, and thus help ward off complications such as type 2 diabetes. In other words, just a few minutes of walking will activate these benefits.
And that’s exactly what new research recently published in the journal Sports Medicine says, which analyzing the results of seven studies, found that standing or walking has beneficial effects on heart health and insulin and blood sugar levels.
In the survey, the researchers further found that light walking after a meal, for just two to five minutes, has a significant impact on moderating blood sugar levels. “Every little thing will have benefits, even if it’s a small step,” said Kershaw Patel, a cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in the United States.
In five of the studies that the article evaluated, none of the participants had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. In the other two, people with and without these conditions were analyzed. Participants were asked to stand or walk for two to five minutes, every 20 to 30 minutes, over the course of an entire day.
All seven studies, however, showed that just a few minutes of light-intensity walking after a meal was enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to sitting on the couch. When the participants took a short walk, their blood sugar levels gradually rose and fell. For people with diabetes, avoiding sharp fluctuations in blood sugar levels is an important way to manage the disease. It is also believed that sharp spikes and drops in blood sugar levels can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
In research, standing also helped lower blood sugar levels, though not as much as light walking. “It had a small benefit,” said Aidan Buffey, a graduate student at the University of Limerick in Ireland and author of the paper. “But walking with light intensity was a superior intervention,” he said.
That’s because light walking requires more active involvement of the muscles and uses food fuel at a time when there is a lot of it circulating in the bloodstream. “They will absorb some of that excess glucose,” explained Jessie Inchauspé, author of the book “Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balance Your Blood Sugar.” “You ate the same meal, but the impact on your body will be less,” she added.
While light walking is good for your health, a short walk for 60 to 90 minutes after a meal can be especially helpful in minimizing blood sugar spikes, as this is when levels tend to peak. “Moving around is worthwhile and can lead to measurable changes, as these studies have shown, in your health markers,” said Euan Ashley, a cardiologist at Stanford University.
Buffey, whose research focuses on physical activity interventions in work settings, further noted that a two- to three-minute mini-walk is more practical during the workday. People “are not going to get up and run on a treadmill or run around the office, but they can grab a coffee or even take a walk down the hall.” For people working from home, he suggested a short walk around the block between Zoom meetings or after lunch. “The more we normalize mini-walks during the workday, the more viable they will be,” he concluded.