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Walking After Eating: Benefits and Considerations

Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Published in Fitness

8 min read

March 18, 2022
a person walking and drinking a coffee
a person walking and drinking a coffee

What do you do immediately after a heavy meal? If your answer is to lean back on the couch, you may want to switch your routine up a bit with some physical activity instead! A quick post-meal walk can do wonders for your health, and once you get used to it, it will likely become something you look forward to. 

Let's break this down a little. You already know that exercising is good for your overall health. Physical activity can impact your blood glucose levels, help with weight loss goals, boost heart health and reduce triglyceride levels

But what's all this talk about post-meal walks? Walking after a meal is especially beneficial for metabolic health. Your metabolism is in charge of generating and using energy, so if your body has a healthy metabolism, you will naturally feel more energetic physically and mentally.

Physical activity can include many different types of activities and levels of intensity, from brisk walking to more intense cycling. And the idea of exercising every day can feel overwhelming if it's not something you're used to incorporating into your routine.

The good news is that something as simple as a 10-minute walk after a meal can have a visible impact on your health and blood glucose levels. Read on to find out more!

What's So Good About a Post-Meal Walk?

a person standing and looking at a phone

Managing your metabolism often goes hand-in-hand with managing blood glucose levels. Simple, daily routine changes can impact how your body processes sugar. So, it may be time to stop being 'too busy' to squeeze in that brisk walk! 

Not only is walking a low-impact activity that improves blood sugar levels, but it is also a great way to prevent other health issues. Daily exercise can lower blood sugar levels, reduce gas, bloating, indigestion and heartburn, and prevent obesity and heart disease. But why focus on it after a meal? 

A healthy metabolism is based on many factors, and when it comes to blood sugar management specifically there are many approaches one can take to improve their metabolic health. A good starting point, especially after a meal, is to engage in some physical activity to allow for that energy or glucose from our food to be utilized as fuel for our activity. This will not only help with our blood sugar management but can even help to maintain a healthy weight over time.

According to research, a short walk right after a meal can help visibly reduce blood sugar spikes. Why is blood sugar so important here? Well, a good indicator of healthy metabolism is when your body can effectively process sugar after you eat carbohydrates.

Too much sugar in your bloodstream, over time, can lead to prediabetes and put you at risk of type 2 diabetes. Your muscles use glucose as energy during any physical activity. So, depending on the length or intensity of the activity, glucose from your bloodstream is put to use here. 

An Overview of the Relationship Between Exercise and Blood Glucose

a person resting after a run

There's more to the relationship between physical activity and your blood glucose levels that you should know about here. As a refresher, carbohydrates from the food we eat are converted into glucose during digestion. Glucose is a type of simple sugar that provides all your cells, including your muscles, with energy.

There are two good ways to control blood glucose levels: a balanced, healthy diet and a good level of physical activity. Since your muscles use glucose as their primary fuel source, even a short walk can help reduce glucose levels in the bloodstream. 

Glucose utilization begins when your muscles have contractions resulting in the need for energy. Insulin, the hormone secreted by your pancreas, carries this glucose from your blood into your cells to address this energy need. 

However, when we use blood glucose for fuel during physical activity it involves different processes than those used by insulin. When your blood glucose levels are too high, your muscles can store some of it in deposits called glycogen, using it later for energy. And a short walk post-meal can boost sugar uptake in the muscle by a significant amount. 

Does Walking Lower Blood Sugar, Raise Blood Sugar, or Is It More About Balance?

a person walking a dog

After a nutritious meal containing all the macronutrients your body needs, your glucose levels may increase. This is especially true if you have a big meal containing carbohydrates. Insulin is of great help here, guiding glucose to your cells. 

This rise in blood sugar is fine for most people because your pancreas creates enough insulin. But there are instances when your body can't handle the glucose load from the meal, leading to more glucose in the bloodstream than we can process at one time.

A short walk may help control, regulate, and lower blood glucose levels in these situations. When you walk, muscle contractions in your body can increase heart rate and respiration. The glucose in our blood then goes to the working muscles, providing necessary energy.

During a contraction, the muscle membranes become efficient in absorbing glucose without the help of insulin, which can lead to a dip in blood glucose levels. At the same time, if you put your muscles through the wringer, glucose levels could rise. It's what happens when your workout is too intense.

With an intense workout that requires intense bursts of energy, the body may not have enough glucose available to fuel the movement. This can contribute to large glucose spikes, as the body releases stored glucose as fuel. This is a normal response to make sure we workout out safely, but it can tell you a lot about your ideal nutrient timing and intake!

How Long Should You Walk to See the Benefits?

a person walking

So now you know that walking can impact everything from blood glucose levels to weight loss, but how can you apply this to your daily life? Is a brisk walk as good as a slow walk? And how long should your walk be to be effective? 

The short answer is that any and all movement can be helpful in controlling glucose levels, especially for people who suffer from prediabetes and diabetes. However, when it comes to short walks, studies show that frequent walks (post-meal walks, in particular) can have more benefits for our health than just one long walk per day. Of course, like with meal frequency and eating patterns, remember that the benefits of a short walk versus a long walk, a slow versus brisk walk, and so on can differ from person to person.

According to this review article, light aerobic activity around 30 minutes following a meal produced the best glycemic responses. The best responses were when the walk was around 60 minutes in duration, and the length of the walk could be reduced with higher-intensity movements.

This means that for brisk walks, a 20 to 30 minute walk may do the trick, but for lighter, slower walks, a longer walk may be beneficial. Of course, everyone's body is different and all movement is good movement, so it's important to consider what's realistic for your lifestyle now.

Remember that any movement after a meal can help the body utilize incoming glucose, so start where you can and work up from there. 

How Soon After a Meal Should You Be Walking?

a person walking and drinking a coffee

As we've mentioned before, all movement is good movement, so whenever you can fit in a walk, it's a beneficial walk. That being said, the current state of the evidence suggests that you may reap the most benefits when incorporating a walk within six hours after a meal. 

Several studies suggest that timing your walk about 30 minutes after eating may provide the most bang for your buck. Research suggests that walks after eating, vs before eating, may be more beneficial for curbing glucose spikes. This can also help keep energy levels stable, preventing the dreaded after-meal energy slump. 

It's worth experimenting with what works best for you, but a good rule of thumb is to time your after-meal walk around 30 minutes after eating.

Other Reasons to Go for a Walk After Eating

Lack of physical activity can affect your health and your blood glucose levels. But it’s not so hard to get moving! According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. A post-meal walk may be an easy way for most people to incorporate physical activity to meet this goal. Here are some other reasons to go for a brisk walk after a meal:

It Helps With IBS Symptoms 

IBS is a chronic disease of the large intestine, with symptoms like abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, excess gas, constipation, or diarrhea. Daily exercise, including walking, helps ease IBS symptoms by reducing stress and bloating and encouraging bowel movements.

It Can Reduce Stress Hormones

a person walking

Cortisol is a hormone released through stress, so a simple walk in the park can quickly reduce it which may improve your mood. Walking is a low-impact exercise that helps release endorphins. These can enhance mood, positively impact emotional health, and prevent depression and anxiety.

It Can Lower LDL Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Walking can reduce diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A brisk walk can help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, benefiting cognitive function.

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Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC

Reviewed by: Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC

Kara Collier is the co-founder and VP of Health at Nutrisense, one of America’s fastest-growing wellness-tech startups, where she leads the health team. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, frequent podcast guest & conference speaker.

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