Just 2 minutes of walking after a meal is surprisingly good for you

Walking after a meal, according to conventional wisdom, helps clear the mind and aids digestion. Scientists have also found that walking for 15 minutes after a meal can lower blood sugar, which can help prevent complications like type 2 diabetes. But, it turns out, even a few minutes of walking can activate those benefits.

In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journal Sports Medicine researchers reviewed the results of seven studies comparing the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels . They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as two to five minutes, had a significant impact on moderating blood sugar.

“Every little thing you do will have benefits, even if it’s a small step,” said Dr. Kershaw Patel, a preventive cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital who was not involved in the study.

In five of the studies assessed by the article, none of the participants had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. The other two studies involved people with and without such conditions. Participants were asked to stand or walk for two to five minutes every 20 to 30 minutes over the course of a full day.

All seven studies showed that a few minutes of low-intensity walking after a meal was enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to, for example, sitting at a desk or lying on the couch. When participants took a short walk, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually.

For people with diabetes, avoiding large fluctuations in blood sugar is an essential part of managing their disease. It is also thought that sharp spikes and drops in blood sugar can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Standing also helped lower blood sugar, but not as much as light walking. “The standing position had a small benefit,” said Aidan Buffey, a graduate student at the University of Limerick in Ireland and author of the paper. Compared to sitting or standing, “low-intensity walking was a superior intervention,” he said.

This is because light walking requires more active muscle engagement than standing and uses fuel from food at a time when there is plenty of it circulating in the blood. “Your muscles will absorb some of that excess glucose,” said Jessie Inchauspé, author of the book “Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar.”

“You’ve always had the same meal, but the impact on your body will be less,” she added.

Although light walking at any time is good for your health, a short walk within 60 to 90 minutes after a meal can be particularly helpful in minimizing blood sugar spikes, as this is when blood sugar tends to peak.

Ms. Inchauspé also recommended getting up to do housework or finding other ways to move your body. This short amount of activity will also improve other dietary changes people can make to help control their blood sugar.

“Moving even a little is worth it and can lead to measurable changes, as these studies have shown, in your health markers,” said Dr. Euan Ashley, a cardiologist at Stanford University who was not associated with the study.

Buffey, whose research focuses on physical activity interventions in the workplace, noted that a two- to three-minute mini-walk is more convenient during the workday. People “are not going to get up and run on a treadmill or run around the office,” he said, but they might grab a coffee or even take a walk down the hall.

For people working from home, he suggested a short walk around the block between Zoom meetings or after lunch. The more we normalize mini-walks during the workday, Mr. Buffey said, the more feasible they will be. “If you’re in a rigid environment, that’s where the difficulties can arise.”

If you can’t take those few minutes to walk around, Dr. Ashley said, “Standing up, you can walk part of the way.” »

The benefits of physical activity are never all or nothing, Dr. Patel said, but rather exist on a continuum. “It’s a gradual effect of more activity, better health,” he said. “Every extra step, every standing position or brisk walk seems to have a benefit.”

Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer based in Texas.

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