Whether you’re hustling to a meeting after lunch or can’t wait to watch your favorite show after dinner, it can be tempting to hurry to your next task right after eating. But research suggests that it’s remarkably beneficial to carve out just a little time for a new post-meal hobby: walking after eating.
Even a few minutes of movement—whether that’s an indoor or outdoor walk or another activity you love—brings a big boost to your mental and physical health after chowing down. Read on to learn more about when, why, and for how long to walk after eating to step up your overall well-being.
4 Benefits of Walking After Eating
The health benefits of walking are notable no matter what time of day you lace up. Still, a mounting body of scientific evidence hints that you might accrue even more benefits by timing some of those steps wisely.
Here’s why a little walking after eating can take you a long way:
1. Helps Balance Blood Sugar
After we eat a meal, the foods we digest are converted to glucose, a source of energy for our body, explains Mary Stewart, RD, a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas. If we get back to business immediately after eating and stay fairly sedentary, this glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen to be used for energy later on.
But when we move our body by walking, cycling, dancing, stretching, or otherwise, “we are activating our muscles which use that glucose for energy, which reduces the post-meal blood sugar spike,” Stewart says. Since our muscles are asking our bodies for fuel (in the form of glucose) to power that post-meal movement, less of it stays in our blood. As a result, walking after eating not only helps keep our blood sugar in check, but can even help lower it, says Roxana Ehsani, RD, a Miami-based board-certified sports dietitian.
Research shows that physical activity right after a meal, starting at a mere two to five minutes of walking, has a beneficial impact on post-meal hyperglycemia (elevated blood glucose). No time or space to walk or sneak in a workout? Even standing up rather than sitting or lying down after a meal is enough to engage muscles and make the blood sugar hurdle more of a speed bump, science suggests.
This is helpful for all humans, as blood sugar spikes—and subsequent crashes—not only mess with energy levels, but may also increase the risk for type 2 diabetes later in life if high blood sugar levels are so common they become chronic.
Speaking of diabetes, individuals with one form of the condition, type 2, will especially benefit from the more even-keeled blood sugar that can occur as a result of walking after eating. That’s because people with diabetes have a target range in which they aim to keep their blood sugar, and going too low or high may have a noticeable impact on normal body systems. If severe and long-term enough, blood sugar outside of a person with type 2’s suggested range may lead to kidney, eye, or nerve damage.
“Being active can help those with type 2 diabetes better manage their blood sugar,” Ehsani adds. “They can think of exercise as ‘free medication’ to maintain their blood sugar.” (That being said, physical activity and lifestyle factors shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for necessary medications. Always work with a medical professional to help manage diabetes and any other conditions.)
2. Promotes Smoother Digestion
Have you ever finished a meal and felt bloated or overly full? This is a common sensation, especially if you tend to eat or drink at a fairly fast pace.
Besides slowing down your rate of eating and opting for portion sizes that better agree with your stomach and intestines, “taking a walk after eating has been shown to stimulate digestion,” Stewart says. (Science backs this up.)
Walking after eating for 10–15 minutes has been shown to help adults who frequently experience bloating feel markedly less bloated after eating. What’s more, a post-meal stroll can help reduce forms of gastrointestinal (GI) distress, like gas.
3. Increases Circulation
In addition to kickstarting the digestive process and getting food and drink moving through our system, walking after eating also helps improve blood circulation, according to William W. Li, MD, a Boston-based internal medicine physician and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. This means that more blood is pumped to our muscles and brain—another reason why you might feel even more invigorated by walking after eating rather than working (or snoozing, scrolling, or sitting) after a meal.
“Walking helps to mobilize stem cells into the bloodstream, too,” Dr. Li adds. “These stem cells assist in healing and regenerating organs that need to be repaired.”
4. Boosts Mood
According to a 2022 review published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, adults meeting the physical activity recommendation of 2½ hours per week saw improved mental health, including a 25 percent lower risk of depression compared to those who did no physical activity.
“Being active post-meal—or really any time of the day—can be a mood booster,” Ehsani says. “Physical activity can boost your circulating levels of ‘feel good’ hormones, including endorphins and dopamine.”
Dr. Li adds that walking also helps make your brain more sensitive to the neurotransmitter serotonin. With serotonin at normal levels, you will likely feel calmer, happier, and more even-keeled, and might find it easier to focus as well.
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When Should You Take Your Post-Meal Walk? Does Pace Matter?
Walking immediately or soon after a meal is ideal, Dr. Li says, as “it will help ‘burn down’ glucose in the bloodstream to avoid high glucose spikes which can cause elevated insulin spikes and metabolic stress on the body.”
Some research suggests that a 30-minute brisk walk that starts 15 minutes after a meal can improve the glycemic response in young, healthy adults.
“If you’re just going for a walk at a normal level, meaning not too vigorous of a pace, you can hop up right after you are finished eating if you’d like,” Ehsani says.
Prefer to pick up the pace, or try something like jog-walk intervals? Ehsani recommends waiting 30 minutes post-meal “to give yourself a bit more time to digest, or else it might feel slightly uncomfortable.”
How Long Should Your Post-Meal Walk Be?
“Any amount of movement post-meal will offer benefits ranging from blood sugar management, boosting mood, and supporting digestion,” Stewart says.
As mentioned earlier, even standing after a meal (rather than sitting) moves the needle. But starting at two minutes of walking, you’ll likely begin to accrue measurable blood sugar benefits by a post-meal stroll.
“If that's all the time you have, you can just do 120 seconds, or if you prefer to go longer you can,” Ehsani says. “If you haven’t been active yet that day, going for a walk post-meal can be the perfect time to hit your exercise aim for the day. The goal is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, or about 30 minutes five days a week.”
That said, don’t stress too much about the exact length of your post-meal walk. There’s no “magic number” for how long or how fast to walk after eating for maximal benefits, Dr. Li says, since each individual is different, and age and mobility can make a difference.
“If you are new to intentional activity after a meal, start slow and build over time,” Stewart advises. “This will help you dial in the right combination of effort and duration to reap the health benefits without the potential digestive pitfalls.”
If you’d like a distinct benchmark, you could work up to walking for 30 minutes after your largest meal of the day. Or spread out that half-hour across two or more of your meals. (For instance, you could stroll 15 minutes after both lunch and dinner, or for 10 minutes after each of your three meals.)
Is Walking the Best Way to Get Active After Eating, or Are Other Options OK?
The best modes of exercise, post-meal or any time, “are ones you will stick with and actually enjoy,” Stewart says. After eating, “the key is to choose something that gets your heart rate up slightly, but not too aggressively that could cause digestive issues from too much movement.”
“If you decide to engage in other activities that are more vigorous, such as a jog, run, game of basketball or soccer post-meal, just remember that it may be best to wait a half-hour or more so you’ve begun digesting your meal more before engaging in these higher-intensity activities,” Ehsani says.
More Tips for Walking After Eating
To get the most out of your walking after eating routine, keep these pro tips in mind:
Walk like you mean it. Rather than just going through the motions and moving your legs, “walk purposefully, swinging your arms to get extra exercise out of the activity,” Dr. Li recommends.
Don’t forget your breath. Take deep breaths by inhaling through your nose, filling your lungs fully, and exhaling in a regular, controlled way, Dr. Li advises. “Breathing is part of the exercise,” he adds.
Find a buddy. “The biggest barrier I hear from clients as to why they don’t move their body after a meal is lack of motivation,” Stewart says. “Inviting a friend or family member can be a great way to help hold yourself accountable to meeting your post-meal movement goals.”
Free your mind. It can feel tempting to catch up on your friends’ social posts or scroll through emails, but try to unplug. “Calm your mind while walking,” Dr. Li says. If you can, “walk without distractions and pay attention to the scenery around you. Being part of your environment will help with mental calmness.” (You could also try a walking meditation on the Peloton App to level up your post-meal mindfulness.)
Walking after eating is a simple way to support mental and physical health. Studies back up the benefits of walking after eating, including a brighter mood, smoother digestion, steadier blood sugar, and increased circulation (which can boost energy as well as mental clarity).
No time to walk? Even standing will score you some of the same benefits. However, if you have time for a two- to 30-minute walk, you’ll have a better chance of feeling the difference of walking after eating—inside your brain and throughout your body.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.