The next time you finish a meal, consider going for a quick stroll instead of heading back to your office chair or plopping on the couch. As little as two minutes of walking after a meal can help lower your blood sugar and provide your body with numerous other health benefits. Preventing frequent exposure to high levels of blood sugar can help anyone — even someone in otherwise good health — manage their energy levels and lower their risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The health benefits of walking after meals
1. Blood sugar management
It’s easy to assume that only those with diabetes need to be concerned about blood sugar levels. However, regardless of health status, everyone’s blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. People without diabetes can also experience the effects of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). If you’ve ever skipped a meal and felt shaky, irritable, tired and unable to concentrate, you’ve likely felt the effects of low blood sugar. Eating likely stabilized your blood sugar and made you feel okay again.
Health problems can arise if our bodies lose the ability to counteract these daily fluctuations in blood sugar. The CDC reports that 96 million American adults (more than 1 in 3) have prediabetes — a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes — and the vast majority (more than 8 in 10) don’t know they have it.
To help curb the blood sugar spike that typically occurs within an hour or two of eating, simply take a short walk within that time frame. That’s enough to significantly lower your blood sugar levels, according to a meta-analysis published in February 2022 in the journal Sports Medicine. Two to five minutes of walking — or any activity that gets you up and moving — will do it.
How it works: As the stomach digests food, it turns carbohydrates (and sometimes protein) into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is then released into the bloodstream and is either used immediately for energy or stored in our bodies to be used later. Being active for as little as two minutes during that process uses some of that glucose, which helps prevent a blood sugar spike.
2. Improved digestion
If you’ve ever eaten a large meal and then retired to your spot on the sofa, you know it can be an uncomfortable experience. It makes sense that walking after eating may help aid digestion. Research also indicates that low to moderate physical activity after a meal may have a protective affect on the gastrointestinal tract, helping prevent conditions such as colorectal cancer, constipation, diverticular disease, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and peptic ulcers.
How it works: Walking after a meal can help get things moving through the digestive tract, stimulating your stomach and intestines to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently.
The health benefits of walking — anytime
Walking soon after meals provides unique benefits, but the American Diabetes Association encourages walking anytime for a myriad of health reasons. Try setting a brisk pace (moderate intensity) and logging *30 minutes a day* to help:
- Reduce risk for
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High triglycerides
- Insulin sensitivity
- LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Better balance
- Focus and alertness
- Healthy metabolism
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- Memory and cognition
- Positive mental health
- Weight loss/maintenance
*The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days per week for most adults. And you don’t have to get all 30 minutes at once. A number of studies show there may be even greater health benefits (for lowering triglycerides and blood pressure, for example) in doing shorter bursts of activity. Taking a quick walk after meals is a smart, simple way to build this healthy habit.
Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have an existing health condition such as diabetes.
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