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Step by Step to Your Health Goals

Research sheds light on the possible benefits of walking programs

Some people might walk after dinner to fill the time before bed, or because they think it aids digestion. (If this is you, it’s true: Research shows walking really does speed up digestion time!) But another reason to walk after dinner – and, really, to walk after every meal – may be to keep blood sugar levels in range. (Be sure to check with your care team before beginning or modifying an exercise routine.)

Walking after a meal may help prevent blood glucose spikes, according to research conducted at the Mayo Clinic. In the study, people with type 1 diabetes were monitored after eating. Some were asked to lie down and rest and others walked very slowly for around 30 minutes. When blood sugar levels were later tested, there was a substantial drop in the walkers versus the loungers, and it lasted for 4½ hours.

What’s more, adding this much activity could inspire weight loss, which is another way to help the body better maintain target blood sugar levels.

Walking at any speed and for any length of time after eating may help. But, to maximize the benefits, consider trying interval walking, or going from a slow pace to a fast pace and back again. This type of varied walking may be better for blood sugar management than walking at a continuous speed, according to a study from Denmark.

In the study, people living with type 2 diabetes walked slowly for 3 minutes then sped up for 3 minutes, following this pattern for 1 hour. During exercise and even hours later, the interval walkers had less sugar in their blood than those who walked at a steady pace.

Sports scientists promote intervals as one of the most effective ways to lose weight, too: Alternating short periods of working hard with short periods of recovery revs the metabolism more than working at a constant level of intensity, which means more calories burned in the same amount of time. Intervals may also come with a bonus “after-burn”: not only does your metabolism work harder during exercise, it could also stay elevated for longer after, which means a person may burn more calories for several hours after they’re done being active, too. 

To do intervals on your own, all you need is a watch that tracks seconds. To make sure that you follow the routine that’s right for you, talk to your care team to help determine the best length and pace of your workout. You may want to follow the same 3 minutes slow/3 minutes fast formula used in the study, or, if walking fast for 3 minutes sounds daunting, you can build up to those times, starting with 1-minute or 90-second intervals. Keep in mind, “fast” and “slow” are relative terms. When you are doing a “fast” interval, try to walk at a pace that makes you breathe more quickly. When you are doing a “slow” interval, walk at a pace that allows you to catch your breath and recover.

A typical 3-minute interval walk routine lasting about 25 minutes would look like this:

0 – 3 minutes Warm up by walking at a slow pace
3 – 6 minutes Walk at a fast pace
6 – 9 minutes Walk at a slow pace
9 – 12 minutes Walk at a fast pace
12 – 15 minutes Walk at a slow pace
15 – 18 minutes Walk at a fast pace
18 – 21 minutes Walk at a slow pace
21 – 24 minutes Cool down by walking at a slow pace

Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness, and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based Pilates and yoga teacher, and blogs at Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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