HEALTH: Walking After Eating can benefit your health

Walking After Eating: Benefits and Downsides

The positive effects of exercise on health have been proven time and time again.

In recent years, a growing trend in the health and fitness community has been to take a short walk after each meal to yield various health benefits.

Potential benefits
Exercise is associated with many positive health benefits. This includes walking after eating, which has some unique benefits of its own.

May improve digestion
A major potential benefit associated with walking after eating is improved digestion.

Body movement can aid your digestion by promoting stimulation of the stomach and intestines, causing food to move through more rapidly.

In addition, low to moderate physical activity after eating may have a protective effect on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

In fact, it has been shown to prevent diseases like peptic ulcers, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticular disease, constipation, and colorectal cancer.

May help manage blood sugar levels
Another notable benefit of walking after eating is improved blood sugar management.

This is particularly important for people with type 1 and 2 diabetes — conditions that impair blood sugar processing — because exercising after eating may prevent excessive spikes in blood sugar, thus reducing the amount of insulin or oral medications required.

A 2016 study in people with type 2 diabetes found that light walking for 10 minutes after each meal was superior to walking for 30 minutes at any one time for blood sugar management.

While post-meal exercise is particularly impactful for those with diabetes, others can benefit from its blood-sugar-lowering effects as well.

May reduce heart disease risk
For decades, physical activity has been linked to heart health.

More specifically, regular exercise may lower your blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while also reducing your risk of a stroke or heart attack.

One study suggests that several small bouts of exercise throughout the day may be superior to one continuous bout of exercise for lowering blood triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease.

You can mimic this pattern by taking 5- to 10-minute walks following your main meals throughout the day.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days per week, and simply by completing three 10-minute walks per day following meals, you can easily meet this guideline.

May promote weight loss
It is well known that exercise plays a major role in weight loss in combination with a proper diet.

To promote weight loss, you must be in calorie deficit, meaning that you burn more calories than you take in.

Walking after meals could bring you closer to reaching a calorie deficit that — if consistently maintained — can aid in weight loss.

May help regulate blood pressure
Walking after meals may also help regulate blood pressure.

Several studies associate 3 daily 10-minute walks with reduced blood pressure levels.

Several 10-minute walks throughout the day appear to be more beneficial for lowering blood pressure than one continuous session.

Another study in sedentary individuals found that starting a walking program can reduce systolic blood pressure by as much as 13%.

Based on current data, participating in walks after meals might have a potent blood-pressure-lowering effect.

May cause upset stomach
While walking after eating has very few associated negative side effects, there is one that should be mentioned.

Some people may experience an upset stomach when walking after eating, with symptoms like indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, gas, and bloating.

This can happen when food that’s been recently eaten moves around in your stomach, creating a less-than-ideal environment for digestion.

If you experience any of these symptoms, try to wait 10–15 minutes after meals before walking and keep the walking intensity low.

The best time to walk
Based on current data, the ideal time to walk appears to be immediately following a meal.

At this time, your body is still working to digest the food you have eaten, allowing you to obtain benefits like improved digestion and blood sugar management.

While walking after all your meals may lead to the most optimal benefits, simply taking a walk after dinner can be a great start.

How long should you walk?
Proponents of walking after meals suggest that you should start by walking for 10 minutes and then increase the duration as tolerated.

Keeping your walks to around 10 minutes lets you yield the potential benefits while preventing downsides like an upset stomach. Plus, this duration makes it easier to fit in the walks throughout your day without greatly affecting your schedule.

By completing three 10-minute walks per day, you can easily accumulate 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Regulate the intensity
While you may think that if walking after meals is good, then jogging after meals must be better, this is likely not the case.

During the initial digestion process following a meal, you’re at an increased risk of getting an upset stomach if exercising too intensely. Thus, you should keep the intensity low to moderate — aim for an elevated heart rate without being out of breath.

A brisk walk at a pace of no more than 3 miles (5 km) per hour will allow you to yield the benefits while most likely avoiding an upset stomach.

Some people may react differently to walking after meals, so it is important to start out with a lower intensity if you’re not in the habit of frequent physical activity yet.

The bottom line

  • Walking after meals is a growing trend in the health and fitness community.
  • The main benefits include improved digestion, heart health, blood sugar management, regulated blood pressure, and weight loss.
  • Starting with low to moderate intensity 10-minute walks following your main meals allows you to yield these benefits with a low risk of negative side effects.
  • Though the intensity is generally low, it is important to check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen if you have any preexisting conditions.
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