Why Walking After Eating Might Be the Best Time to Get Your Steps In

Photo: Getty Images/ Vgajic
As tempting as it is to lie down after eating, there’s an excellent case to be made for walking after a meal. “There are a lot of benefits to walking after eating or postprandial exercise,” says Juan Delgado, a sports scientist and biomechanist, and research backs him up—one 2009 study suggested that a 20-minute walk after dinner1 led to lower post-meal blood meal sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, while a meta-analysis published in 2022 found that just two minutes of walking after a meal could significantly lower blood sugar after eating.

Experts In This Article

There are several other benefits of taking a post-meal walk, says Delgado. Below, he, along with Adam Feit, PhD, CSCS*D, RSCC, SCCC, PN2, co-owner of TF Performance and assistant professor of exercise science at Springfield College, provide more insights into the benefits of walking after eating.

Benefits of walking after eating

1. It helps digestion

After you eat, your stomach breaks down food into nutrients, which are then “transported through the body to wherever they’re needed,” says Delgado—and a post-meal walk can help make your food move through you more quickly. He adds that stimulating your digestion can prevent or at least reduce the duration of postprandial somnolence, aka a food coma.

2. It increases blood flow

“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 for bones, muscles, and organs to work more efficiently.”

3. It boosts your mood

Walking, even short distances, can improve your mood. The brain produces more endorphins, which have been likened to naturally occurring opiates due to their ability to uplift the mood while reducing pain. According to Delgado, the brain also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can increase positive emotions, improve learning and memory, and promote better shut-eye.

4. It improves sleep quality

Speaking of sleep, a post-meal walk can improve your sleep quality. “Walking after eating promotes a faster and deeper sleep, as serotonin is a precursor to melatonin,” says Delgado—and melatonin is a neurohormone that is crucial in regulating sleep. Just keep in mind that experts suggest avoiding vigorous exercise before bedtime, which can interfere with sleep rather than improve it.

5. It helps regulate blood sugar levels

As underscored by research findings, a post-meal walk can help regulate blood sugar levels—both in the short term and the long term. According to the American Diabetes Association, walking can lower blood glucose for 24 hours or more after the activity. Dr. Fiet adds that walking can also prevent a glucose or sugar spike, and in turn, a sugar crash.

Beyond the physiological benefits of walking, exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, author of The Micro-Workout Plan, says that walking is an opportunity to lace up your best walking shoes and get outside, which has its own benefits. “You could obviously walk on a treadmill, and that’s fine, but being outside in nature is good for us.” He adds that doing it with others can make the experience more enjoyable—and how you feel during your walk will increase the likelihood of you sticking to it and reaping the benefits.

Should you wait to walk after eating?

How long you should wait to exercise after eating will depend on the amount and type of food you’ve eaten. According to registered dietitian Amanda Lemein, MS, RD, in a previous interview with Well+Good, the more food you eat, the longer it’ll take to digest—and typically, foods that are higher in fiber, protein, and fat will take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates and lean protein.

How long you should wait will also depend on how vigorous the exercise is, says Holland—and in this case, you can head out for a  walk immediately after eating, so long as it’s done at a leisurely pace. Conversely, if you plan to engage in a more strenuous activity, you might want to wait anywhere from one to two hours in order to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

How long should a walk be?

Your walk can be any length you want it to be, so long as you’re moving throughout the day. “Frequency is more important than the duration, and I would rather a client do three 10-minute bouts rather than one 30-minute walk,” says Holland. “If you only walk for 10 minutes three times a day, a) you’re more likely to do it, and b) studies show that breaking up those prolonged periods of sitting is going to have a better effect because the sitting is what kills us.”

As for how many steps you should walk a day? “There’s nothing wrong with doing 10,000 steps,” Elroy Aguiar, PhD, assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Alabama, told Well+Good. However, he says that it’s more realistic to work towards moving more throughout the day rather than making your daily step goal 10,000 steps.

How fast should you walk after eating?

According to Dr. Feit, “Post-meal, brisk walks ideally should be treated at a conversing, not crushing, pace.” He suggests aiming to walk at a pace of three to four miles per hour, which is about 100 steps per minute. Holland shares the sentiment, adding, “It should feel easy on a scale of one to 10. With 10 being really hard, it should be a three or four.” As mentioned, vigorous exercise shortly after eating can lead to tummy trouble, though you can opt to pick up the pace if you wait an hour or two before pounding the pavement.

Are there downsides to walking after eating?

According to Holland, the only major downside to walking after eating is possible gastrointestinal distress, specifically if you walk at a faster pace too soon after a meal. He says that if you experience abdominal cramps, it’s generally a sign that you might want to slow down.

What is the best time of day to walk?

When it comes to the best time of day to walk, morning, midday, and evening walks all offer their own benefits. Morning walks can keep your circadian rhythm in check and wake up the digestive system, while midday walks can get you through the afternoon slump and after-dinner walks are great for helping you unwind after a long day. All to say, walking in general is beneficial for your health—and if you’re getting in your daily steps, it doesn’t matter what time of day you do it.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Colberg, Sheri R et al. “Postprandial walking is better for lowering the glycemic effect of dinner than pre-dinner exercise in type 2 diabetic individuals.” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association vol. 10,6 (2009): 394-7. doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2009.03.015
  2. Buffey, Aidan J et al. “The Acute Effects of Interrupting Prolonged Sitting Time in Adults with Standing and Light-Intensity Walking on Biomarkers of Cardiometabolic Health in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 52,8 (2022): 1765-1787. doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01649-4
  3. Erland, Lauren A E, and Praveen K Saxena. “Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 13,2 275-281. 15 Feb. 2017, doi:10.5664/jcsm.6462

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...