Light walking after a meal – even for 2 to 5 minutes – can reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, the researchers found.
Blood sugar levels spike after eating, and the insulin produced to control them can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular issues, the researchers explained.
“With standing and walking, there are contractions of your muscles” that use glucose and lower blood sugar levels, Aidan Buffey, the lead study author and a PhD student in physical education and sport sciences at the University of Limerick, told The Times.
“If you can do physical activity before the glucose peak, typically 60 to 90 minutes [after eating], that is when you’re going to have the benefit of not having the glucose spike,” he said.
Buffey and colleagues looked at seven studies to understand what would happen if you used standing or easy walking to interrupt prolonged sitting.
In five of the studies, none of the participants had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. The other two studies included people with and without diabetes. The people in the studies were asked to either stand or walk for 2 to 5 minutes every 20 to 30 minutes over the course of a full day.
All seven studies showed that standing after a meal is better than sitting, and taking a short walk offered even better health benefits. Those who stood up for a short period of time after a meal had improved blood sugar levels but not insulin, while those who took a brief walk after a meal had lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Those who walked also had blood sugar levels that rose and fell more gradually, which is critical for managing diabetes.
Going for a walk, doing housework, or finding other ways to move your body within 60 to 90 minutes after eating could offer the best results, the study authors concluded.
These “mini-walks” could also be useful during the workday to break up prolonged periods of sitting at a desk.
“People are not going to get up and run on a treadmill or run around the office,” Buffey told The New York Times.
But making mini-walks a normal thing during the workday could be easy and acceptable at the office, he said. Even if people can’t take walks, standing up will help somewhat.
“Each small thing you do will have benefits, even if it is a small step,” Kershaw Patel, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, told the newspaper. Patel wasn’t involved with the study.
“It’s a gradual effect of more activity, better health,” he said. “Each incremental step, each incremental stand or brisk walk appears to have a benefit.”