- A new meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine suggests that even 2 to 5 minutes of light walking right after eating may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Just standing — rather than sitting — may also help, though not as much, the study found.
- The study finds that light walking or standing helps smooth post-meal blood sugar spikes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for optimal cardiometabolic health. Nonetheless, research has shown that less exercise — while not ideal — can also deliver some health benefits.
Health issues such as type 2 diabetes may result from frequent or extreme glucose “excursions,” when the amount of blood sugar, or glucose, in the blood drops below or rises above healthy levels.
A study published in 2009 established that taking a 20-minute post-meal, or “postprandial,” walk after eating can help reduce a meal’s glycemic impact, leading to less extreme spikes in glucose levels.
A new meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine finds that even 2 to 5 minutes of light walking after a meal can help smooth out postprandial glucose levels.
The researchers analyzed the results of seven studies exploring the metabolic effects of sitting, standing, and light walking to ascertain whether light walking and standing were more beneficial than simply sitting. They measured their effects on blood sugar, insulin, and systolic blood pressure.
The analysis found that even standing was better at reducing blood sugar than sitting after a meal, though not as beneficial as light walking.
While both light walking and standing did moderate postprandial glucose levels, only light walking lowered insulin levels measurably — standing provided a statistically insignificant insulin benefit. Neither had any effect on systolic blood pressure.
Stanford University’s Dr. Euan Ashley, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today:
“I think the message is that even a little exercise is good! Move more! But just as important, it shows that more is better. So light walking is better than just standing.”
Dr. Ashley added, “Not shown here, but shown by others, brisk walking is even better than light walking! And 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity weekly is recommended, and most of us fall short there.”
“But we should not let perfect be the enemy of good. Even a little walking goes a long way,” concluded Dr. Ashley.
Medical News Today spoke with Aidan J. Buffey, the study’s lead author and Ph.D. student at the University of Limerick in Ireland.
Buffey said that light exercising helps reduce “the development of insulin resistance and subsequently, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as high and prolonged glucose excursions are a risk factor for these diseases.”
Jessie Inchauspé, author of Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar, not involved in the study, pointed out to Medical News Today that taking a stroll after a meal may benefit anyone:
“By reducing the glucose spike of a meal, we all benefit — whether or not we have diabetes. Reducing the glucose spike of a meal leads to fewer cravings, later on, less hunger before the next meal, less inflammation, and slower aging, among other benefits,” said Inchauspé. “Reducing glucose spikes is a powerful lever to use to improve our physical and mental health.”
Light walking vs. standing
The study found that light walking and standing provide the most benefit when done within 60 to 90 minutes of finishing a meal.
“We suspect light walking was more effective at reducing postprandial glucose compared to standing breaks and prolonged sitting due to the increased muscular contractions completed when walking,” said Buffey.
“These muscular contractions have been shown to increase the uptake of glucose in the skeletal muscle,” he noted.
Inchauspé added that because we work our muscles as we walk or exercise, the muscles need glucose for energy every time they contract.
“The first place they will look for this glucose is in our bloodstream,” Inchauspé said. “We can use this information to our advantage: if we contract our muscles within 90 minutes of finishing a meal, our muscles will soak up some of the glucose from the meal, therefore reducing the meal’s glucose spike. The harder and more frequently we contract our muscles, the more glucose they will soak up.”
“Further, our muscles contract,” explained Inchauspé. “They are able to uptake glucose without the help of insulin (whereas otherwise, insulin is needed to allow glucose to enter cells). Since walking allows muscles to uptake a significant amount of glucose, there is less leftover glucose for our body to deal with, therefore a lesser need for our pancreas to produce insulin to dispose of it. This is likely why we see that walking reduces postprandial insulin levels.”
Walking to better health
Regardless of one’s daily routine, taking strolls after each meal may be possible and enjoyable as a pause before everyday activities resume.
For those who work in an office environment, Inchauspé had some recommendations:
- walk up and down the stairs at your office building a few times after lunch
- do calf raises while waiting outside a meeting room
- do squats in the bathroom or push-ups on the edge of the sink
- suggest a walking meeting during a one-on-one, and walk around the block while talking
- play your favorite song and have a dance party for 3 minutes after work
Inchauspé also noted, “Small things go a long way. There are also many other hacks that can help you: a savory breakfast, eating your food in the right order, incorporating vinegar into your day.”
Given the findings of their study, its authors wrote:
“We would, therefore, recommend light-intensity walking for clinically meaningful reductions in postprandial glucose and insulin when compared to prolonged sitting.”
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