Right now, roughly 96 million Americans—or more than one in three adults—are living with prediabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns. Eight out of 10 prediabetics are unaware of their condition, making them far more likely to progress toward irreversible chronic illness. However, experts say there are measures you can take which may help you reverse course—including one that takes just a few minutes after mealtime. Read on to learn how to slash your diabetes risk by doing one simple thing after eating—and why it comes with major heart benefits, too.
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The single best way to lower your diabetes risk is to maintain a healthy weight, says the Mayo Clinic. They note that by losing between seven and 10 percent of your body weight through a healthy diet and exercise, you can reduce your diabetes risk by a whopping 60 percent. “More weight loss will translate into even greater benefits,” experts from the organization write.
In particular, the Mayo Clinic emphasizes the importance of eating plant-based foods that are rich in dietary fiber, as these are known to lower weight and blood sugar levels. These may include whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and low sugar fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, and tree-fruits.
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What you do after a meal also has an effect, new research suggests. A Feb. 2022 meta-analysis published in the journal Sports Medicine reviewed the results of seven studies and found that walking after a meal had a significant impact on your diabetes risk by lowering insulin and blood sugar levels.
In five of the studies, the participants did not have diabetes or prediabetes, while the remaining two studies included people with and without diabetes. Across the seven studies, participants were asked to either sit, stand, or walk at different times throughout the day. The researchers learned that subjects who stood or walked following meals saw more gradual changes in their blood sugar levels, as opposed to more sudden spikes. This light exercise was especially beneficial when participants walked within 60 to 90 minutes after a meal, since blood sugar levels usually peak during that time frame.
This is important not only to diabetics—who must avoid such sudden spikes—but also for healthy adults, since abrupt changes in blood sugar are believed to increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Previous research, including a 2021 study published in the journal Nutrients, has established that walking for at least 15 minutes can have a positive impact on diabetes risk and management. However, the Sports Medicine analysis made one striking observation: a two-minute walk provides many of the same benefits as a longer walk or more vigorous exercise.
This means that if you can’t stop your day for a long constitutional walk after each meal, you can still control your blood sugar levels with a more moderate stroll around your office or home. Even standing up carries some—though not all—of the benefits, and can incrementally improve blood sugar levels, the study authors say.
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Taking a light walk may also appears to have protective benefits for the heart, the research shows. That’s because “poor blood glucose control is a risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says the Nutrients study.
In fact, walking can help lower your risk of dying from heart disease, a 2020 JAMA study concludes. Using accelerometers to track physical activity, those researchers recorded the steps of 4,840 Americans aged 40 and older and learned that the more steps people took, the lower their risk of dying within the following 10 years. When comparing those who walked 4,000 steps per day to those who walked 8,000 steps per day, they saw that the more physically active group was roughly half as likely to die from all cause mortality—but in particular from heart disease. Follow up studies have placed that number even higher, estimating a 50-70 percent reduced death rate for those who walked at least 7,000 steps per day.
Speak with your doctor if you have any questions about how to incorporate more physical activity into your routine. And remember, every step counts when it comes to diabetes risk: Walking for just two minutes after a meal can make a world of difference.