Taking a short stroll after a meal may help ward of diabetes.
New research has shown that walking each day after meals could reduce blood sugar levels in older adults. High blood sugar is one risk factor that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
However, a 15-minute walk after each meal was better at helping older people in the study regulate their blood sugar levels than one long 45-minute jaunt.
About 25.8 million people living in the U.S. have a form of diabetes as of 2011, according to the American Diabetes Association. An additional 79 million Americans will have pre-diabetes, but many do not know they are at risk.
The majority of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes. The body needs a hormone called insulin to break down sugars and starches derived from food, in order to provide energy. In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the presence of insulin. When these sugars, or glucose, builds up, diabetes-related health issues can occur.
The study, which was published on June 12 in Diabetes Care, involved 10 people aged 60 at older who were at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes because of higher-than-normal levels of fasting blood sugar and their low levels of exercise. They were otherwise healthy.
The participants were asked to engage in three different exercise routines spaced four weeks apart. Each experiment took place over 48 hours in a whole room calorimeter, which allowed scientists to calculate energy expenditure from air samples. The subjects were given standardized meals, and had their blood sugar levels measured continuously.
The first 24 hours acted as a control period. The second day, subjects either walked for 15 minutes after each meal or 45 minutes either at 10:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m. All walking was done at an easy-to-moderate pace on a treadmill.
All three routines lowered blood sugar, but the short after-meal walks were more effective. Researchers found that the best time to go for a walk was after the evening meal. Because dinner is normally the largest meal of the day, blood sugar is increased substantially and persists throughout the night and early morning. When the subjects began to walk after the meal, there was a significant decrease in their blood sugar levels.
Lead author Loretta DiPietro, chair of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services department of exercise science, pointed out that after a big meal, most people take a nap or watch television -- which doesn't help blood sugar levels.
"That's the worst thing you can do," DiPietro said in a press release. "Let the food digest a bit and then get out and move," she says. A walk timed to follow the big evening meal is particularly important because this research suggests high post-dinner blood sugar is a strong determinant of excessive 24-hour glucose levels, DiPietro said.
However, she realized her study only involved 10 people, even though they were monitored very closely. Still, she believed the findings show that small amounts of exercise each day at the right times can greatly benefit older adults even more than one long exercise period.
Dr. Stephen Ross, attending physician at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told HealthDay, that these short walks may be easier to stick to because they didn't interfere that much with someone's schedule.
"If you are exercising right after you eat, that would cause blood sugar to decrease because more of the glucose would go to the muscles to help the muscles with their metabolism," Ross, who was not involved in the study, explained.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said to WebMD in a statement that the research proves that being physically active is a great way to lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Even though the short 15-minute strolls after each meal were the best, even doing one 45-minute walk brought benefits.
"It's important to find a way to be active that is enjoyable and works for your lifestyle; a walk after dinner is a great way to achieve this, but so is gardening, walking the dog, or doing housework. Combining physical activity with a healthy balanced diet that is low in salt, fat and sugar and rich in fruit and vegetables can reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes," Hobbs, who was not involved in the study, said.