A new study from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) finds that older adults who take short walks after meals may be contributing to lowering their risk of type 2 diabetes by helping to reduce the elevations in blood sugar that occur after filling the stomach with food.
Researchers, who caution that the results still need to be confirmed by trials in larger groups, suggest three short bouts of exercise a day are more likely to help older people control blood sugar than one long one, especially if timed properly.
Taking a rest after meals is the worst thing to do, say researchers from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) who led the study and report it in an early issue of “Diabetes Care”, published online this week.
Taking a rest after a meal is the worst thing you can do, according to the study. Taking the dog for a walk, running an errand, or simply walking at an easy-to-moderate pace for 15 minutes are more effective in preventing elevated blood sugar, which is a pre-diabetic condition that over time can develop into full-blown type 2 diabetes.
About 79 million Americans are estimated to have pre-diabetes, but most are not aware of it or the risk it poses.
The exercise does not have to be extreme; for example, earlier this year researchers reported that brisk walking can reduce a person’s risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol just as much as running can.
This is the first study to address the effect of short bouts of exercise, performed around the risky period following meals when blood sugar can rise rapidly and cause damage.
Diabetes is more common in older people, and older people may be less able to control blood sugar after meals, thanks to insulin resistance in the muscles and slow or low insulin secretion from the pancreas. The body needs insulin to regulate blood sugar.
Researchers have found that high blood sugar after meals is a key risk factor in moving from impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Remember: three short walks after meals were as effective at reducing blood sugar over 24 hours as a 45- minute walk of the same easy-to-moderate pace. In addition, post-meal walking was found to be significantly more effective at lowering blood sugar for up to three hours following an evening meal.
Unfortunately, many older people take a nap or watch TV after a big meal, which is not a good idea. A short walk after a big evening meal is particularly important, as researchers have found that high post-dinner blood sugar is a strong determinant of excessive 24-hour glucose levels.
The most effective post-meal walk is probably the one after the evening meal, according to researchers, who have observed the rise in blood sugar after the evening meal often lasted well into the early hours of the next morning. Yet it appears that blood sugar levels can be curbed significantly as soon as we start walking.