At the end of a long day, it can be very tempting to dive into social media or Netflix the minute you’ve finished eating. But back before screens consumed all of our free time, an after-dinner stroll was a popular activity and one associated with improved health and digestion.
Research backs this up. This study found that when older adults at risk for type-2 diabetes walked on a treadmill for 15 minutes after a meal, they had smaller blood sugar spikes in the hours afterwards. In fact, the researchers found that these short post-meal walks were even more effective at lowering blood sugar after dinner than a single 45-minute walk taken at mid-morning or late in the afternoon.
Simply put, the human digestive system breaks down and converts food into glucose, which is one of the body’s main energy sources. So after a meal, glucose floods a person’s bloodstream. For most people, this is at its highest about 45 to 60 minutes after eating.
Hormones like insulin help transport that glucose into cells, either to be used immediately or stored away for later use. However, for people with diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity, too much glucose can remain in the blood, which can cause or contribute to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and a variety of other health problems.
So, what good does walking do? The muscles used to walk use glucose as energy. This glucose is taken directly from the blood as it is the most readily available energy source. Using energy to walk lowers the glucose levels in the blood.
This means that when your digestive system starts to release glucose into your blood, your blood glucose levels will not spike so dramatically.
This study from 2016 found that just 10 minutes of walking after a meal helped control the blood sugar levels of people with type-2 diabetes.
Along with combatting surges in blood sugar, a little post-meal movement may also aid digestion. Exercise stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.
Here are some of the other health benefits associated to taking a walk after meals:
- More quality time with friends or family (if not walking alone);
- Increased vitamin D exposure (in summer months);
- Improved blood circulation;
- Decreased triglycerides;
- Strengthened immune function;
- Reduced stress;
- Improved sleep quality.
Even if you can only fit in a quick 10-minute walk in the evening, the long-term benefits will be worth it.