Why Walking After Eating Might Be the Best Time to Get Those 10,000 Steps

Photo: Getty Images/vgajic
I don’t think there’s anything more relaxing than a post-dinner stroll. Sure, not in the rain or snow, but a spring evening with the flowers blooming and birds chirping? I’m walking after eating and leaving the dishes in the sink for a few more hours.

It seems like somewhere along the way, “good exercise” was defined by how hard you can push yourself. I mean, there are just so many examples of sweating your butt off and intense workouts, but a casual stroll after a meal has a ton of benefits right up there with other forms of exercise. Going on a walk after eating does so much 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."

"Post-meal, brisk walks ideally should be treated at a conversing, not crushing, pace," says Adam Feit, PhD, associate professor of exercise science, 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. Not convinced yet? Here are some of the awesome benefits of a post-meal walk.

The perks of walking after eating, according to sports scientists

1. Walking after eating improves digestion

When you finish eating your body gets to work breaking down the food and absorbing the nutrients. "Proteins, electrolytes, water, vitamins, carbohydrates, and other nutrients are absorbed and transported through your body to wherever they're needed," says Delgado. Walking supports this process by speeding up the process by which your food is broken down and used, he says. This leads to faster digestion and reduced bloating. 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. It supports blood sugar regulation

"After eating, food must be broken down into forms of energy for the body to use," explains Dr. Feit. As ten minutes of post-dinner walking can improve blood glucose levels compared to other times during the day, according to the American Diabetes Association. This can support efforts to reduce your risk for insulin insensitivity or metabolic conditions like type II diabetes. He adds that walking can prevent a “glucose spike” which prevents a sugar crash later on.

3. Promotes those good-mood hormones

You don’t have to run 10 miles at a 7-mile pace to get some endorphins flowing, walking can also produce this good-mood inducing hormone, according to the Mayo Clinic. An after-dinner stroll can also release serotonin, according to Delgado, which is a neurotransmitter that promotes good sleep, helps regulate appetite, improves learning and memory, and increases positive feelings," says Delgado.

4. Utilizes stored energy 

"Casual or brisk walking after each meal is a great way of increasing your level of non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” says Dr. Feit. “This term refers to the energy expended for everything we do that's not sleeping, eating, or working out." This is great for fullness after a large meal if you want to feel less full—faster. Remember, though, you never have to walk or work out to “make up” for a meal, because eating is important for your health and exercise does not have to be a punishment or currency.

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. Improves sleep quality 

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.

That's honestly a pretty long list of benefits. Aside from these awesome physiological boosting pluses, steps are steps, so this walk can be a great way to get in your 10,000 steps if you’re looking for more ways to close your rings or feel that little buzz in your smartwatch. Sometimes incorporating fitness into your routine in ways that feel like a small treat, or no big deal is a great way to trick your mind into getting way more steps than say a planned out intense run.

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 when you feel full, no worries. You can wait until your fullness sensation has subsided slightly, so you’re not uncomfortable.

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