There are essentially two states to turn to after a satisfying meal: lying horizontally on the couch, or walking it out. Walking after eating is something my parents always used to have me and my sister do, and I’m now aware—as a more wise, mature adult—that it certainly feels better than just remaining sedentary, and experts say there’s actually a lot of science behind it.
Walking itself is its own solid form of exercise, sure—but doing it after eating does even more for your body, including boosting your metabolism, aiding digestion, and lowering stress levels. “There are a lot of benefits to walking after eating, or post-prandial exercise,” says Juan Delgado, a sports scientist and certified biomechanist with New York’s Sports Science Lab. “It lowers glycemic index significantly, improves your intestinal movement, promotes better sleep, and boosts your blood flow.”
Besides all the many biological boosters that walking after eating is giving you, it’s also, ya know, contributing to your 10,000 steps. And you can do it with your friends or your dog or while tuning into a fun podcast—really, you can’t go wrong. If you’re the type of person who prefers to lay back and let yourself feel full, here’s the good news: You don’t have to make it an actual walking workout.
“Post-meal, brisk walks ideally should be treated at a conversing, not crushing, pace,” says Adam Feit, PhD, assistant director of performance nutrition with Precision Nutrition. His advice? Aim for between three and four miles per hour, or about 100 steps per minute. “As the speed of the walk increases, it pulls away circulation from the digestive system towards the working muscles to ensure energy demands are met, which could delay digestion,” he says. Ready to lace up? Read on for what to know about post-meal walks.
The perks of walking after eating, according to the pros
1. Improves digestion: Once you’re done eating, your body gets to work, and all of the different nutrients get broken down. “Proteins, electrolytes, water, vitamins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients are absorbed and transported through your body to wherever they’re needed,” says Delgado. “This process can be improved by walking after eating, as walking has been found to play a significant role in reducing gastric emptying time by reducing the time that food moves through the gastrointestinal tract, which results in faster digestion and less bloating after eating.” So by moving your body, you’re helping things move within your body as you process the food you just ate, which he says is especially helpful if you tend to get sluggish after a meal.
2. Improves blood sugar: Similar to promoting better digestion, walking after eating helps regulate your blood sugar levels. “After eating, food must be broken down into forms of energy for the body to use,” explains Feit. “Research has shown that as little as ten minutes of post-dinner walking can improve blood glucose levels compared to other times during the day.” That in turn reduces the risk of developing conditions like type II diabetes or heart disease, he says. Delgado adds that walking has been documented to “help reduce the spikes in glucose, making it easier to utilize.” So the walking helps to ensure you don’t feel that sugar spike and then crash after a meal.
3. Decreases stress: Exercising in general makes your body release endorphins, which are a feel-good chemical (that also happens to reduce stress). That we know. But even an easy walk after a meal can let you reap the same mind-boosting benefit. “Walking after meals can have a calming effect on the body which can improve your mood, focus, and concentration,” says Feit. “Casual or brisk walking after each meal is a great way of increasing your level non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is energy expended for everything we do that’s not sleeping, eating, or working out.” Besides that, walking releases another feel-good hormone: serotonin. “Walking helps produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes good sleep, helps regulate appetite, improves learning and memory, and increases positive feelings,” says Delgado.
4. Decreases muscle soreness: You may hesitate to workout again after a grueling sesh that left your muscles sore, but the pros say that walking after eating can help reduce that muscle fatigue by lubricating them. “’Motion is lotion’ for joints and muscle tissues,” says Feit, who says that post-meal walking circulates beneficial nutrients to your cells and waste products out of the cells to help promote recovery.
5. Boosts blood flow: When you’re walking, you’re letting your body pump more blood throughout it—which is especially beneficial after a meal. “Another important benefit of walking is better blood flow, which is essential for muscles,” says Delgado. “It induces blood flow to the limbs and organs, and better circulation due to movement will result in a healthier vascular system that will transport the nutrients necessary to bones, muscles, and organs to work more efficiently.”
6. Aids in better sleep: While you might be tempted to curl up and fall asleep after a big meal (I feel you), a short walk will actually allow you to have a better sleep. “Walking after eating promotes a faster and deeper sleep, as serotonin is a precursor to melatonin,” says Delgado. So taking the time to clock some steps before hitting the hay will pay off in the long run when you actually go to bed.
Some more good news for you: Power walking is as good of a workout as running, according to the pros. And this is the game-changing secret on how to count your steps accurately, because fitness trackers can be extremely finicky products.
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