Walking is a low-impact activity that offers a number of health benefits. A person should take the length and intensity of a walk into account to reap the maximum advantages.
While walking has many benefits, there is limited evidence on the benefits of going for a walk after eating. People should take their personal circumstances into account and know that if they prefer to walk at different times of day, they are still reaping many health benefits.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of walking after eating, the potential downsides, and how to determine the ideal walk length and intensity.
Potential benefits of walking after eating
There are many benefits of walking after eating. Some of these include the following:
Reduces gas and bloating
According to a 2020 study, moderate daily exercise improves symptoms such as gas and boating in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Their findings suggest that people can decrease their symptoms by 50% when they increase their daily step count from 4,000 to 9,500.
Researchers suggest that as the body moves, it stimulates the digestive system. This aids the passage of food.
It is important to note that this study was done on university students, the majority of whom identify as women. They were all diagnosed with IBS, and they were not taking medication to reduce symptoms. This study also did not look specifically at walking right after eating.
While this study indicates that a person can reduce common digestive issues by increasing their step count, it merely shows an association. Additionally, this was an observational study of people with IBS. This means the observed findings will not apply to all populations.
Different studies have conflicting results. One German study suggests that while walking after a meal meant faster gastric emptying (which is how quickly the food moves from the stomach to the small intestine), it does not affect GI symptoms.
Regulates blood sugar
After a person eats a meal, their blood glucose increases, especially if the meal contains a lot of carbohydrates. This is a temporary rise in blood sugar. In a person who does not have diabetes, their body will release insulin. Insulin lowers blood sugar and helps keep levels in check.
There are a variety of ways a person can manage their blood glucose, and walking after eating is one of them.
According to a 2018 study, a walk’s timing affects postprandial blood glucose, or post-meal blood sugar levels. The findings suggest that a short walk after a meal lowers blood glucose levels more than walks done before a meal.
It is important to note that this study was done on nondiabetic young adults. The study design did not include information on other demographic factors, such as the race of the participants, so it may not be representative of larger populations.
Supports mental health
Walking is a possible way to improve mental health. This is because it reduces stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
When a person goes for a walk, the body releases endorphins that act like natural painkillers. These decrease discomfort, boost mood, reduce stress, and induce feelings of relaxation.
However, research does not indicate that walking after a meal specifically improves a person’s mental health. If this is the primary benefit a person is looking for, they should aim to fit a walk in whenever suits them best.
Regular exercise, in any form, can help relieve insomnia. This exercise can include walking.
Research indicates that for some people, regular exercise can be as effective as insomnia medication. One older study shows that in adults, long-term regular exercise significantly decreased the amount of time it took them to fall asleep.
However, going for a leisurely walk after dinner can also benefit people without insomnia. Getting a moderate amount of aerobic activity increases the amount of slow-wave, or deep, sleep a person gets at night. However, vigorous exercise can be stimulating, and it may cause the opposite effect.
Lower blood pressure
Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, which is good for heart health. This protects against heart disease and stroke.
For optimal heart health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommend that people get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days per week.
People can easily achieve this by taking either one 30 minute walk after a meal, or three 10-minute walks after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Potential downsides of walking after eating
Walking is a safe and healthy activity for most people.
However, some individuals may find that they experience abdominal pain, fatigue, or discomfort if they go for a walk immediately after eating. This occurs if the food in the stomach moves around, inhibiting digestion.
If someone has eaten a large, heavy meal, they may prefer to wait before walking.
Ideal walk length
Similarly, one person’s ideal walk length may be different from another’s.
The CDC recommends a person gets 30 minutes of physical activity per day, 5 days per week. If someone cannot manage this, they can break the amount into shorter walks. They can gradually increase the length as they feel more comfortable and their fitness level improves.
Individuals may also find shorter walks are more manageable with their schedule. People should choose the walk length that is most comfortable — and practical — for them.
Manage the intensity
Gentle walking after a meal has various health benefits. However, high-intensity exercise is not always a good idea.
The process of digestion starts in the mouth as soon as a person starts eating and can continue for hours afterward. Intense, strenuous exercise can cause digestive distress. It can also lead to an upset stomach.
Instead, people should aim for low to moderate-intensity walking. They should aim to increase their heart rate without pushing enough to be out of breath.
If someone is new to walking after meals, they should begin with a relaxed stroll. They may be able to gradually increase the speed and intensity as they become accustomed to this physical activity.
Walking provides health benefits, such as blood sugar regulation and better sleep. It can also lower blood pressure.
People should choose the length, intensity, and time of walk that suits them best. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. This is why it is a good idea to aim for that amount of movement.
While walking has many benefits, and it is a healthy activity, you may want to wait a little while after a substantial meal.
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