Frequent readers of this publication know that I’m a big fan of morning walks. Besides the mental health benefits, I know those steps can reduce the risk of heart disease, manage blood pressure, boost brain health, and extend my life.
And now, after spotting new research findings, I have a reason to lace up my sneakers and take an after-dinner stroll, too.1
Sure, it’s excellent for digestion and clearing your head, but that’s not all.
Researchers have found that even a two-minute jaunt after a meal helps reduce your risk of type-2 diabetes. Yes, you read that right. Just two minutes!
So, let’s dig into this meta-analysis, published in the journal Sports Medicine.
The Two-Minute Metabolism Miracle
Researchers examined the results of seven studies comparing the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on specific health markers, including markers of heart health, insulin levels and blood sugar levels.
They discovered that light walking after a meal, in sessions as little as two to five minutes, made a big difference when it came to balancing blood sugar levels.
In five of the studies, none of the participants had pre-diabetes or type-2 diabetes. The other two studies looked at folks with and without this common illness.
Participants were directed to either stand or walk for two to five minutes every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day.
What did researchers learn?
All the studies showed that just a few minutes of light-intensity walking (think stroll, not power walk) was enough to improve blood sugar levels significantly. That’s compared to folks who favored retreating to an office chair or TV-watching recliner.
It seems that when folks headed out for a post-meal walkabout, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually.
When You Walk Matters
The best walking results occurred within 60 to 90 minutes of eating. This is especially useful in minimizing blood sugar spikes because this is when they tend to peak.
Study author Aidan J. Buffey says that light exercising helps reduce “the development of insulin resistance and subsequently, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as high and prolonged glucose excursions are a risk factor for these diseases.”
Additionally, while both light walking and standing did support healthier post-meal glucose levels, only walking lowered insulin levels measurably.2
Understanding Blood Sugar Spikes
Simply put, your blood sugar rises after eating carbohydrates. In turn, your body releases insulin to lower blood sugar. But glucose can stay elevated in people who have insulin resistance.
Folks with diabetes need to pay special attention to blood sugar levels to prevent serious health issues, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
But here’s the thing: even “healthy” folks can have dangerous glucose spikes after eating, another study found.3 And what happens when these spikes are left unchecked? Study author Michael Snyder, PhD, explains, saying, “There are lots of folks running around with their glucose levels spiking, and they don’t even know it.”
He adds that the spikes are a problem because high blood sugar levels, especially when prolonged, can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk and a person’s tendency to develop insulin resistance, which is a common precursor to diabetes.
My Two Cents
I like this study because it underscores what we’ve long known about the health attributes of physical activity.
And thanks to this research, we know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. Even a quick jaunt down the street after eating offers significant benefits.
Sleep strugglers take heed: There’s evidence that a post-meal walk can help release happy hormones such as serotonin and help manage the day’s stressors.4 What’s more, a moderate amount of aerobic activity also increases the slow-wave, or deep, sleep a person gets at night.
But keep that evening exercise mellow, as vigorous pre-sleep activity can have the reverse effect and keep you awake for hours.
While this study focused on the benefits of walking after meals, that doesn’t mean you can’t get similar results with other activities. Try dancing during the commercials, pacing while you’re chatting on the phone, or even marching in place while doing the dishes. It all adds up!