Secret Side Effects of Walking After Dinner, Says Science
Everyone knows that the early bird gets the worm, but what about night owls? Well, if they're walkers, a lot.
That's right—walking after dinner in the evening can have some extra benefits for your health beyond the long list of perks you can already expect from crushing walking workouts every day. (You know, stuff like healthy weight management, stress relief, improved heart health and longevity, it goes on and on.)
However, there are some things to keep in mind before lacing up your shoes and going on a post-dinner stroll. First, stick to well-lit areas and paths that you're familiar with, says Rob Arthur, C.S.C.S, since it's harder for cars to see you in the dark. (You can go the extra mile and wear reflective gear if you're walking in a more rural area, but Arthur doesn't necessarily for all night walking circumstances.)
You also don't want to go on a super intense walk before bed. While movement in general can be beneficial in the evening, too intense of a workout right before bed can make it harder for your body to wind down and sleep, Arthur says. So stick with a gentler pace to promote better relaxation later in the evening.
All in all though, there are some pretty great benefits to evening walks, especially if you head out right after you eat. So what if you can't bring yourself to walk in the morning? Lace up your shoes now and go for a post-dinner stroll. Your body will thank you. If you want even more walking workout tips, don't miss: The Secret Fitness Trick for Walking Better Starting Now, Say Experts.
It supports better digestion
Going on a walk right after you eat dinner can support easier digestion, Arthur says. "The way that [walking] moves your body can help aid in digestion," he says. An older study from 2008 in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Liver Disease actually found that taking a slow treadmill walk immediately after eating sped up the gastric emptying process (aka how fast your stomach moves food into the lower intestine). Slower gastric emptying is associated with heartburn, so speeding it up with a walk might keep you from feeling the burn… in your chest, at least. Take that, late-night indigestion! And for for more digestion intel, check out: We Just Discovered the Best Hack for Digestion.
It might help with blood sugar management
Going on a walk right after dinner "might help keep blood sugar levels a little more stable," says Arthur. There's lots of research to support this. A 2013 study in the journal Diabetes Care found that walking generally helped improve blood sugar control. But people who took short, 15-minute walks after every meal saw even better blood glucose improvements than people who took a single 45-minute walk in the morning. Even a 10-minute walk after dinner can make a difference in blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes, as shown in a 2016 Diabetologia study.
Why? "Insulin secretion in response to a meal tends to wane later in the day," exercise science professor Loretta DiPietro told TIME. Most people eat large meals at the end of the day, which keeps blood glucose levels high for hours. (This can cause sleep disruptions, particularly if you have diabetes.) But walking and other exercise uses up glucose for energy, meaning that walking after you eat can help use up what would otherwise be hanging out in your blood. Just note that evening walks are not a replacement for medication if you have diabetes; rather it can be used to support an existing treatment plan. And for more support with blood sugar, check out the 50 Best Foods for Diabetics.
It might improve your metabolism
More recent research suggests that exercise (such as walking) after dinner might be good for your metabolism. A small 2021 study published in the journal Diabetologia had a small group of men follow a high-fat diet for five days, and tracked them as they worked out either in the morning or the evening. While the high-fat diet raised cholesterol levels in all of the participants, those who worked out in the evening had lower cholesterol levels and better blood sugar control than the others. Basically, the evening workout helped "reverse" the worst changes from the unhealthy diet, per the New York Times.
It'll help you relax
"Walking reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue, and reduces your risk of becoming depressed—so it is also beneficial for your mental health," Holly Schiff, Psy.D., previously told ETNT. That's because walking helps release endorphins, feel-good neurotransmitters that can improve your mood. Do it after dinner and you'll give your body a great way to relax and wind down in the evening, Arthur says. Bring a partner or friend along for added social benefits. And if you need more help falling asleep, Do This Just Minutes a Day to Fall Asleep Like a Baby, Say Doctors.