The Rationale Behind Post-meal Walking
The subject of walking after eating meals has been surrounded by controversies since people have different opinions about it. Still many like to have an after-dinner stroll for improved digestion and health.
A study published in Diabetes Care in 2013 concluded that short, intermittent bouts of post-meal walking appear to be an effective way to control post-prandial hyperglycemia in older people.
Another study published in Diabetologia, Dec. 2016, also concluded that the benefits relating to physical activity following meals suggest that current guidelines should be amended to specify post-meal activity, particularly when meals contain a substantial amount of carbohydrate.
These studies support the opinion that it is beneficial to have short bouts of moderate to light physical activity after eating.
Changes in blood sugar levels after meals -
Our digestion has separate tools to digest each of the three macro-ingredients. Carbohydrates generally digest more quickly, while fats take the longest to get broken down. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, proteins are broken down into amino acids, and fats are broken down into fatty acids.
Glucose is one of the body’s primary energy sources. After eating, our blood sugar levels begin to rise within 15 to 30 minutes, if our meal or snack includes only carbohydrates. The speed and level of the rise depend on the type of carbohydrates and other nutrients found in the food we eat. Foods that don't contain carbohydrates or only very little such as vegetables, butter, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, cheese and nuts do not have the ability to significantly influence our blood sugar levels.
A hormone called insulin helps pull that glucose into cells, either to be used immediately or stored away for later use. But in people, having diabetes and impaired insulin activity, too much glucose can remain in the blood, which can contribute to causing many health problems.
Health Benefits of Post-meal Walking -
Post-meal walking or a light to moderate physical activity has specific health benefits as mentioned below.
Controls blood sugar level - In people with type-2 diabetes, 10 to 15 minutes of walking after a meal helps control blood sugar levels. It is more effective especially after dinner as the body’s ability to manage blood sugar at that time of the day is weakest.
Moves digested food faster - Besides combating surges of blood sugar, walking stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.
Reduces heartburn - It has been found that walking helps speed up the time it takes food to move from the stomach into the small intestine. This helps lower the rates of heartburn and other reflux symptoms.
Lowers triglyceride levels - Researchers have found that people, with obesity and type-2 diabetes, doing a light weight training session 45 minutes after dinner lowered their triglycerides for a short time and improved their wellbeing. Triglycerides may play an even greater role in CVD, reducing TG levels especially the elevation that takes place after a high-fat meal may have a significant impact on preventing CVD.
Reduces blood pressure and depression - A quick 10 to 15-minute walk is also likely to reduce blood pressure and depression.
Burns calories - It significantly affects calorie burn especially after dinner when the next thing we are going to do is to sleep, during which there is no physical activity.
Promotes better sleep - If someone suffers from sleep deprivation, waking up in the midnight without a reason, then walking regularly after dinner will improve sleep. Moreover, walking after dinner or any meal helps relieve stress contributing further to better sleep.
Improves memory - In the past, studies have revealed that 10 minutes of light physical activity can enhance some aspects of cognitive ability and improve memory performance. So, this is another significant benefit of post-meal light exercise.
There’s evidence that vigorous forms of exercise may delay digestion after a meal because muscles pull more of the blood flow during activity and the GI tract gets relatively less. That is why experts suggest a post-meal physical activity of light to moderate intensities like walking or biking.
For the same reason, people with cardiovascular disease should avoid vigorous exercise after a heavy meal as it is likely to precipitate a heart attack since more blood is diverted to the vigorously acting muscles and GI tract, leaving little blood for the heart.
The bottom line -
It has been found that post-meal walking is significantly more effective than 45 minutes of sustained morning or afternoon walking in lowering post-dinner glucose. Therefore, a light to a moderate physical activity of any kind after-dinner can be added to one’s regular workout schedule in order to derive above mentioned benefits.
- Corresponding author: Loretta DiPietro, firstname.lastname@example.org. Diabetes Care 2013 Oct; 36(10): 3262-3268. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc13-0084
- Diabetologia December 2016, Volume 59, Issue 12, pp 2572–2578| Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomized crossover study
- Post-dinner resistance exercise improves postprandial risk factors more effectively than pre-dinner resistance exercise in patients with type 2 diabetes 01 MAR 2015 https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00917.2014