You work out regularly – strength training and aerobic exercise. Fantastic! That’s more than most Americans do. Yet, we know that, based on research, structured exercise doesn’t compensate for too much sitting. According to studies, people who sit more than six hours per day are at higher risk of premature death, even if they do a structured workout most days of the weeks. Not exercising in a structured manner and too much sitting are independent risk factors for early mortality and you shouldn’t assume that one makes up for the other.
The message? We need to fit more non-structured activity into our lives to stay fit, healthy, and lower the risk of age-related health problems. In fact, studies show that a little exercise after a meal may be beneficial for your metabolic health and how your body processes glucose – and it doesn’t have to be a vigorous workout. Simply taking a brisk stroll after a meal has benefits too. What ARE the benefits of walking after a meal?
Walking after a Meal Helps with Blood Sugar Control
Walking after a meal helps improve insulin sensitivity as well as upgrade how your body processes glucose. In a study carried out in diabetics, researchers found that taking a 10-minute walk after lunch or dinner was linked with a greater drop in blood sugar than taking a 30-minute walk at other times of the day unassociated with meals. The benefits of a walk were greatest, based on the study, after the evening meal and had more profound effects after a meal high in carbs. Still, you don’t need to have diabetes to benefit from walking or light exercise after a meal. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and that, in turn, helps your body push glucose into cells and out of the bloodstream easier. That’s important for metabolic health.
Another study from the Mayo Clinic looked at the blood sugar response of 12 people with type 1 diabetes and 12 healthy people without diabetes. The participants took, on average, a 30-minute walk after two meals and sat in a chair after a third meal. In both diabetics and non-diabetics, blood glucose readings were significantly lower after walking than when the participants sat after eating. In the diabetic participants, blood glucose readings were 145% lower and in the non-diabetics, 113% lower. That’s substantial!
Why would we see this benefit? When you exercise, muscle cells take up glucose more easily, so your pancreas doesn’t have to pump out as much insulin to get glucose into cells. Both aerobic and resistance exercise enhance insulin sensitivity, although most studies have focused on the impact of aerobic exercise on blood glucose levels. However, a randomized control study looking at 251 adults found that resistance exercise helps with blood sugar control too. In fact, in the study, the greatest improvements were seen with a combination of aerobic and resistance training. It’s possible that strength training within an hour of a meal would have a similar glucose-lowering effect as taking a walk, especially if you work large muscle groups in the lower body. Resistance training, like aerobic exercise, improves insulin sensitivity.
Beneficial for Blood Fats Too
According to a study, walking after a meal also helps lower triglycerides, blood fats that rise, especially after a high-fat meal. In one study, researchers measured triglyceride levels in healthy men and women after dining on a high-fat meal. In one session, the participants exercised an hour before eating the fatty meal. In the second session, they exercised for an hour afterward. In a third session, they did no exercise after gobbling up the fatty meal.
The results? What they found was the participants’ triglycerides rose two hours after eating the high-fat meal. However, when they did light exercise afterward, the bump-up in triglycerides was 72% less, compared with no exercise. When the participants exercised BEFORE the meal, it also moderated the rise in triglycerides but to a lesser degree. It was only a 25% reduction compared to not exercising at all. Still, that small reduction could be a boon for your health.
What’s the significance of lower triglycerides? High triglycerides are linked with cardiovascular disease. In fact, research shows that one of the strongest risk factors for cardiovascular disease is a high triglyceride to HDL-cholesterol ratio. Getting triglycerides down to a healthy level through diet and lifestyle changes is yet another thing you can do to potentially lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Walking after a meal, based on the study mentioned, helps to bring post-meal triglycerides down, at least temporarily.
Better Metabolic Health
The take-home message? Taking a walk rather than sitting after eating is a small step you can take to improve your metabolic health and, potentially lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s important, especially as we age, as insulin sensitivity gradually declines as the years go by and this increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Of course, you’ll get even more benefits if you do several structured exercise sessions each week as well as train your muscles against resistance using weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight. There’s no doubt that movement, even for short periods, is one of the best medicines there is – and you don’t need a prescription. So, take advantage of a prescription that only has good side effects – exercise, so you won’t have to take a prescription medication later on that has potentially bad side effects.
Science Daily. “After-Meal Exercise May Reduce Heart Disease Risk”
Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Jul-Aug; 20(4): 418–428. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.183460.
The Lancet. Volume 384, No. 9943, p626–635, 16 August 2014.
PubMed Health. “A 10-minute walk after a meal ‘good for diabetes”
Science Daily. “Both Aerobic And Resistance Exercise Improved Blood Sugar Control In People With Diabetes”
DocsOpinion.com. “Triglycerides – An Overview of the Role of Triglycerides in Heart Disease”
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: October 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 10 – p 2806–2811
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