CNA/THE NEW YORK TIMES – In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journal Sports Medicine, researchers looked at the results of seven studies that compared the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels.
They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as two to five minutes, had a significant impact in moderating blood sugar levels.
“Each small thing you do will have benefits, even if it is a small step,” said preventive cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital Dr Kershaw Patel, who was not involved in the study.
In five of the studies that the paper evaluated, none of the participants had pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes. The remaining two studies looked at people with and without such illnesses. Participants were asked to either stand or walk for two to five minutes every 20 to 30 minutes over the course of a full day.
All seven studies showed that just a few minutes of light-intensity walking after a meal were enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to, say, sitting at a desk or plopping down on the couch. When participants went for a short walk, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually.
For people with diabetes, avoiding sharp fluctuations in blood sugar levels is a critical component in managing their illness. It’s also thought that sharp spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels can contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes.
Standing also helped lower blood sugar levels, although not to the degree that light walking did. “Standing did have a small benefit,” a graduate student at the University of Limerick in Ireland and an author of the paper Aidan Buffey said.
Compared to sitting or standing, “light-intensity walking was a superior intervention”, he said.
That’s because light walking requires more active engagement of muscles than standing and uses the fuel from food at a time when there is a lot of it circulating in the bloodstream. “Your muscles will soak up some of that excess glucose,” said Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar author Jessie Inchauspe. “You still had the same meal, but the impact on your body will be lessened,” she added.
Although light walking at any time is good for your health, a short walk within 60 to 90 minutes of eating a meal can be especially useful in minimising blood sugar spikes, as that is when blood sugar levels tend to peak.
Inchauspe also recommended getting up to do housework or finding other ways to move your body. This short amount of activity will also enhance other dietary changes that people may be making to help control their blood sugar levels.
“Moving even a little bit is worthwhile and can lead to measurable changes, as these studies showed, in your health markers,” said a cardiologist at Stanford University Dr Euan Ashley, who was not associated with the study, said.