Your stomach, blood sugar levels, and heart with thank you for talking a short walk after eating. Plus, there are bonus fat-burning benefits.
The Importance of Taking 100 Steps After Eating
The Ayurvedic practice of taking a walk after each meal is called shatapavali. Shata means “100” and pavali means “steps.” Literally, the practice suggests taking at least 100 steps after each meal.1
In fact, studies have found that walking after a meal can deliver a host of health benefits to your belly, brain, and more.
Perhaps the very worst thing we can do to sabotage the benefits of a meal is to stay seated for hours after eating.1-7 After you eat, your cardiovascular system is challenged to deliver a shipment of nutrients to each and every cell. Eating a large meal, is like getting on a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour—food and nutrients can back up, causing significant arterial and capillary stress. Think of a high-fat and high-sugar meal rushing to get on a crowded freeway as your arteries try to process post-meal nutrients into your cells. What’s worse is all that nutrient traffic has to be delivered to congested small streets in the inner city (capillaries). In fact, one study reported that a large heavy meal can increase the risk of heart attack four-fold in the two hours after a meal.7
In this article, I’ll cite the studies that confirm the ancient wisdom of going for a walk or exercising after a meal, especially a big meal.
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Walking After Meals Helps Your Heart
Studies tell us that after a meal, certain hormone are released into the bloodstream that increase heart rate and raise blood pressure. This effect increases the risk of clots and strains, irritates the endothelial lining of the arteries, and increases the demand for more oxygen, which puts ad extra burden on the heart.7
One of the hormones responsible for delivering nutrients to cells is insulin. An increase in insulin will also decrease the ability for coronary arteries in the heart to relax, creating higher pressure and increased cardiovascular risk.7
The good news is that a post-meal walk or exercise will deliver sugar into the skeletal muscles without needing insulin, therefore reducing after-meal, cardiovascular stress. Here’s how it works: Exercise delivers glucose or sugars into the cells. The activation of GLUT-4 receptors on the muscles bypasses the need for insulin and directly uptakes glucose to energize the muscles. This happens to everyone who walks after a meal, even those who are out of shape or have blood sugar issues.7
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Walking After Meals Lowers Blood Sugar
A post-meal walk can help lower blood sugar, which is directly linked to cardiovascular risk. In one study, published in the journal Diabetologia, 41 participants with type 2 diabetes were asked to either walk for 10 minutes after each meal or for 30 minutes a day for a period of two weeks. Blood sugar level were measured three hours after meals in both groups. The group that walked after meals has significantly lower post-meal blood sugar than the group that walked 30 minutes a day. The greatest effect was after evening meals, when the most carbohydrates were consumed.2
In another study, volunteers were asked to go for a 15-minute walk after all three meals. Researchers saw post-meal blood sugar levels lower, on average, from 129mg/dL to 116mg/dL. Studies have also found that if a post-meal walk isn’t possible, going for a walk at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. also resulted in a reduction of blood sugar.10
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Walking After Meals Helps You Burn Fat Better
In a small study with 12 healthy adults ages 21 to 33, one group rested for 6 hours after a fatty meal and another group walked on a treadmill for 1.5 hours, starting 1.5 hours after the meal. The study measured both triglycerides (an independent risk factor for heart disease) and fats (lipids) in the blood six hours after eating and found that triglyceride and lipid levels were significantly lower during post-meal exercise, versus post-meal.3
Walking After Meals Helps Your Stomach Empty Faster
One of the most common causes of indigestion is a condition that Ayurveda calls udvarta, which means upward-moving digestion. In the West, this is called gastro paresis. It happens when food and acids linger in the stomach too long before emptying. The delay causes upward pressure within the stomach that pushes on the diaphragm and is one of the major causes of gastritis, or reflux. In my practice, this is one of the most common Ayurvedic digestive imbalances I see.
In a study with 50 diabetic volunteers, post-meal walks increased how quickly the stomach emptied, suggesting that the same effect can take place with healthy individuals as well.4 Studies have found this to be true. Walking after a meal and practicing Tai Chi and yoga all resulted in a faster stomach emptying time and therefore improved digestion.11,12
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When to Go For a Post-Meal Walk
There are conflicting reports about when to go for your post-meal jaunt. One study suggests starting your exercise 30 minutes after starting the meal, because the biggest post-meal blood sugar spike comes at around 90 minutes after you start to eat.7 While another study found that exercising 30 minutes after the meal ended significantly lowered blood sugar spikes, compared to exercising after 15 minutes.8 There are also studies that recorded benefits from starting 1.5 hours after your meal.3
The Ayurvedic take on eating habits encourages us to relax and enjoy meals, which can take a half hour or so. Directly after a meal it’s good to sit and relax, or even lie down on your left side for 10 to15 minutes.9 Then, 15 to 30 minutes after eating, go for a walk. Studies also say that the longer the walk, the better—but 15 to 30 minutes is enough to provide significant cardiovascular protection. Please don’t let any of these time suggestions stop you from enjoying a post-meal walk—just do it!
And let us know how it goes!