How to Lower Your Blood Sugar Levels

How to Lower Your Blood Sugar Levels

Just like your natural melatonin levels fall and rise at certain times of the day, so does your blood sugar. After you eat, your blood sugar increases, and the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This hormone signals the body to soak up glucose, lowering blood sugar along the way. The body uses the glucose in one of three ways:

  • Uses that sugar as fuel now
  • Stores that energy in the liver as glycogen to use later
  • Converts it into fatty acids to store as fat in our adipose tissue

For individuals who have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance can derail or hamper this process. Whether you have diabetes or not, however, it's ideal to keep blood sugar levels within a fairly steady range to help maintain sustained energy and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on.

One of the easiest, most affordable and most effective ways to help your body stay sugar-steady? Lacing up your sneakers and going for a stroll. Research shows that a post-meal walk as short as two to five minutes may have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, and the benefits multiply if you take even more steps and make physical activity a regular part of your routine.

Read on to find out more about why walking is so beneficial for blood sugar stability, plus score a four-week trainer-approved walking plan that will help you keep your blood sugar—and energy levels—within a healthy range and even-keeled from morning to night.

How Walking Benefits Blood Sugar Levels

The movements your body makes while walking stimulate muscle contractions and blood flow, which helps deliver glucose from outside the muscle cell to inside, explains Michele Canon, NASM, CPT, a Pasadena, California-based fitness nutrition specialist, behavioral change coach and an XPro for Stride Fitness on Xponential in Pasadena.

Because sugar molecules in the blood cannot enter muscles without an "escort" of sorts, they have to be carried along with the help of insulin, adds James S. Skinner, Ph.D., a senior advisor on exercise for the American Council on Exercise and professor emeritus at the department of kinesiology at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

"However, when people gain excess fat or become very sedentary, the amount of insulin needed to transport sugar rises. The insulin receptors on the muscle surface become less sensitive. If not enough insulin is produced, blood sugar will rise," Skinner explains. "If this continues over a long time, the situation gradually becomes worse, and the person eventually can develop type 2 diabetes."

If you immediately embark on a Netflix marathon or remain sedentary in any format post-nosh, this glucose transportation process does not happen as efficiently, Canon says.

"The good news is that the efficacy of a post-meal walk happens immediately. In fact, studies have shown that a 30-minute brisk walk within 30 minutes after a meal can lower your blood sugar 50 times more than being sedentary," Canon continues.

a woman walking outside

According to an article published in Diabetes Care, this effect is immediate and can last 24 to 48 hours, depending on how long you walk and how intensely you do so. That means if you walk after dinner tonight, your blood sugar might respond differently to your meals today, tomorrow and possibly the following day.

"Because we don't know exactly how much exercise is needed for each person, it's best if you exercise at least every other day. Interestingly, if you become active on a regular basis, the effect of one exercise session is greater, and you have even better blood sugar control," Skinner says.

The blood sugar benefits really stack up over time. If you step things up over the long term, you can slash your risk for chronic disease. People who regularly engage in moderate-intensity physical activity are at about 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than their sedentary peers, according to a meta-analysis of 10 studies published in the journal Diabetes Care.

How Much to Walk for Better Blood Sugar

As you've seen, anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes post-meal can move the needle—so how much exercise per day is best for blood sugar?

This can vary from one person to another. Still, the WHO's physical activity recommendations of shooting for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week is a solid place to start. And in case you were wondering, walking *does* qualify as a "workout"!

"If you have not been active lately, walk more slowly and for shorter distances until your body adapts. Then gradually build up to 150 minutes per week. While there are suggestions that you should walk 10,000 steps per day, recent research shows that walking 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day is sufficient to get the same benefits," Skinner says.

If you exercise less than that, the beneficial effects occur more slowly and less dramatically but are in the same positive direction as those seen with more exercise, Skinner adds. (Translation: A little is better than nothing, so don't feel forced to stick to the walking plan below.)

"You do not have to train to be fitter or to compete in a sport to see improved insulin sensitivity. The process of being active is more important than the product of being fit. Make walking and other activities a part of your lifestyle, and you will gain many other health benefits," Skinner says. The health benefits of walking include a lower risk of dementia and heart disease and a brighter mood.

Easy Walking Plan to Lower Blood Sugar Levels

As we mentioned, blood sugar impacts likely roll over into the next day (and perhaps the next), so you'll notice this walking plan—designed by Canon exclusively for EatingWell—leverages that news and kicks off with rest days every other day to allow you to ease in.

"Start with this plan, working your way up to walking briskly for 30 minutes most days of the week," she suggests.

For extra motivation, Canon recommends recruiting friends, family members or co-workers, making a playlist, such as Reese Witherspoon's go-to workout mix or listening to your favorite podcast.

In terms of timing, since dinner is often the biggest and most carb-rich meal of the day, "starting a walking routine post-dinner is the most beneficial to blood sugar regulation," Canon says. "To start your after-dinner walking plan, 'habit stack' onto something you do each night, like loading the dishwasher. You can say to yourself, 'After I load the dishwasher, I will put on my shoes and walk.'"

Week 1

  • Monday: 10-minute walk
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 10-minute walk
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 12-minute walk
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: 12-minute walk

Week 2

  • Monday: 12-minute walk
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 15-minute walk
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 17-minute walk
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: 17-minute walk

Week 3

  • Monday: 17-minute walk
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 20-minute walk
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 25-minute walk
  • Saturday: 17-minute walk
  • Sunday: 25-minute walk

Week 4

  • Monday: 25-minute walk
  • Tuesday: 20-minute walk
  • Wednesday: 25-minute walk
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 25-minute walk
  • Saturday: 30-minute walk
  • Sunday: 25-minute walk

The Bottom Line

Walking 30 minutes after your highest-carbohydrate meal of the day can help you maintain steadier blood sugar levels and possibly help reduce your risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Exercise isn't the only factor involved in diabetes risk, though. Uncontrollable factors like genetics and age play a role, as do other lifestyle factors. In tandem with this walking plan for blood sugar, work with your doctor to maintain cholesterol levels within the recommended ranges, aim to drink alcohol in moderation (or skip it entirely) and eat balanced meals that contain fiber, protein and healthy fats in addition to carbs. And snag more inspiration from recipes to help keep blood sugar in check.

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