Just a 2-minute walk after your meal can do wonders for your health

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  • Walking is one of the best ways to improve and maintain our health.
  • But to achieve these benefits, we don't have to stretch ourselves to do 10 000 steps a day.
  • Research shows that even a two-minute walk can activate benefits that lessen our risk of developing diabetes.

You may be all too familiar with the health and well-being benefits of a daily stroll. From increasing your energy levels to strengthening your heart, lifting your mood and helping you enjoy a longer life, there are many reasons to get moving.

Experts have also long made a case for taking a walk after we eat. Apart from improving digestion, research shows that a post-meal walk can help control blood sugar spikes, which can help offset complications such as type 2 diabetes.

One study found that in older adults at risk for type 2 diabetes, walking on a treadmill for 15 minutes after their meal led to smaller blood sugar spikes in the hours afterwards.

READ MORE | Here’s why you might want to work out in the cold

But, it turns out that two minutes is all you need to activate these benefits - though a more extended walk will yield better benefits.

According to a new study, a two to five-minute light-intensity walk after a meal can significantly moderate your blood sugar levels.

Reporting their results in the journal Sports Medicine, the researchers suggest that "standing breaks have a small beneficial effect compared to prolonged sitting on [blood sugar levels], but walking breaks represent a superior intervention."

This may be an unsurprising result, they say. Still, their meta-analysis is the first to report such a statistically significant improvement when we interrupt our prolonged sitting with standing or walking.

Shorter walk: better benefits

In five of the studies reviewed, none of the participants had pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, while the other two studies included participants with and without the condition. 

The research team found that a few minutes of light-intensity walking after a meal were enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to remaining sedentary. These benefits were even more significant when the participants went for a short walk.

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The diabetes burden, globally and in SA

Adults as young as 20 live with diabetes globally, and more than 540 million adults are at risk of developing type 2, says the International Diabetes Federation. The illness claims more than six million lives each year and is the leading cause of death in women. 

In South Africa, diabetes affects approximately 4.5 million people, largely due to excess body weight and physical inactivity, writes researchers at the University of Pretoria. It’s safe to say then that these findings have tremendous relevance for populations worldwide.

What about the 10 000 steps a day mantra?

Forget 10 000 steps - recent studies have offered a fresh perspective on the "need" for that many steps per day, which likely originated from a 1960s marketing campaign, to achieve health benefits. 

While there is a lack of robust evidence to back up the impact of taking 10 000 steps a day on our health, reliable research has shown that, on average, around 4 400 daily steps - which most of us can cover in just over 30 minutes - may be enough to significantly lower the risk of death, particularly for women. These benefits may level off at around 7 500 daily steps. 

READ MORE | Do we really need to walk 10 000 steps a day?

If you struggle to motivate yourself to walk, try getting a pedometer. They retail for as little as R60. Some studies have shown that pedometer users walked more than 2 000 additional steps each day than those without it, and their overall physical activity levels increased by nearly 30%.  

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