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Matthew J. Edlund M.D.
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

When to Walk? Try After Meals

Timing matters—particularly for diabetes and weight control.

Walking and Talking

Walk after meals. Stand and move after you eat. You’ve probably heard this advice somewhere. But does it really work?

If the goal is preventing diabetes, it seems to prove true—at least for a group of folks studied by Dr. Loretta Di Pietro at George Washington University.

The Study

People 60 and over at risk for type diabetes—with the extremely common “prediabetes” picture of high fasting sugar—were asked to walk.

They did it two different ways—for 15 minutes after meals, or for one 45 minute session in the evening.

The Results

Both walking “interventions” improved glucose tolerance. People produced less insulin following the meal. Internal sugar levels were more balanced.

Yet the blunting of high glucoses after eating was done most effectively when people walked immediately after meals. Insulin peaks peaker lower than with the single 45 minute session.

And when people walked after the evening meal, instead of seeing sugars rise for hours and hours throughout the night, they came back to normal levels quickly. Just from a little bit of walking.

Problems With the Study

The study conditions were stacked—people who already had moderately high glucose levels were the ones investigated. And the study size—though done with multiply repeated changes and measures—was only ten carefully followed subjects.

Why Are the Results Important?

Because they agree with a trend coming out of recent research—that even brief high glucose levels are bad for you—and can be prevented by rather minimal exericse.

High glucose levels may be bad for arteries, hearts and brains. They may set you up for Alzheimer’s disease plus losing fingers and toes. They may make you ultimately hungrier, bigger, and fatter—and more at risk of tumors.

But they can be stopped—preferentially—by the simple action of walking after meals.

How Might This Work?

When you walk after a meal you slow or even stop digesting your food.

Glucose levels can’t increase as much. You don’t have to overstress your insulin making cells—the tiny islets of Langerhans in your pancreas—to respond quickly to high, peak glucose levels.

The sort of high glucose levels you normally get from malted milks, or snickers, candy, bread and cakes—and that occasional fast food sandwich.

Lower your insulin peaks and you’re talking less belly fat. And probably less weight, too.

Add in that insulin production is heavily stressed by the modern American lifestyle—short nightly sleeps; processed meals; calorically dense foods; prolonged bouts of sitting.

For what ails most of those who suffer from type 2 diabetes is not lack of insulin production. It’s insulin resistance—effectively a learned inability for insulin to work. In most people with type 2 diabetes production of insulin is already high—sometimes very high. It’s just that less and less of it works as messenger to let glucose in through your cell membranes to help power your cells.

In other words, type 2 diabetics are producing huge amounts of insulin—but that insulin does not have the full chance to act.

Walking after meals can dramatically shift the equation. It can decrease insulin resistance and make your body act like it’s built to do—eat, move, and rest. What I call FAR—Food-Activity-Rest.

And there’s more.

Benefits of Walking After Meals

A. If you walk after a meal you can cut back on esophageal reflux.

For when you walk, you’re standing and moving. Food flows down into gut. Gravity helps keep acid in your stomach—not jumping outside it.

That stomach acid can be ferocious. People with reflux have higher rates of esophageal cancer.

You might cut your risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease—GERD, in half—just by walking after meals.

B. You can obtain better weigh control.

Walk after a meal and the insulin peaks are less. Most folks I know want less belly fat—and here is a simple way to get it.

C. Walking immediately following the evening meal may yet more effectively control weight.

Why? Circadian effects. Eat at night and glucose and fat levels go higher in your blood than earlier during the day.

That’s particularly important to shift workers, who gain weight disproportionately by eating at times when others are resting or asleep. When you snack at night you need to get going—fast.

D. Walking makes people feel better.

Walking in light improves mood. Walking with friends increases social support. Walking in the evening can cut back on the frequent leg kicks that wake many folks all through the night, worsening their sleep—and making them hungrier come morning for fattier, sugary foods.

Walking in sunlight also helps grow brain cells—in memory areas. If you’re worried about Alzheimer’s disease, that’s something to remember.

Bottom Line

Want to prevent Diabetes? Alzheimer’s Disease? Heart Disease? Stroke? Weight gain? Various tumors? Improve mood? Feel slimmer?

Take a walk after meals.

It’s all about going FAR—food, followed by activity, followed by rest. It’s a natural rhythm of human beings.

And using natural rhythms can make your body—naturally—feel and look better.

Plus improve your chances of sticking around. Giving you a better chance to enjoy it all.

About the Author
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

Matthew Edlund, M.D., researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health. He is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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