Italians partake in an after-dinner walk called passeggiata in order to aid digestion. They may have been onto something, because according to a new study, a 15-minute walk after meals can regulate blood sugar levels in people at risk for type-2 diabetes.

The study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging, found that three 15-minute walks after each meal controlled blood sugar levels much better than one 45-minute walk in the morning or afternoon, according to HealthDay.

"More importantly, the post-meal walking was significantly better than the other two exercise prescriptions at lowering the post-dinner glucose level," Loretta DiPietro, chairwoman of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington D.C. and lead author of the study, told HealthDay.

In the small study, the researchers tested 10 older adults with an average age of 70. All participants were overweight and pre-diabetic, with fasting blood glucose levels between 105 and 125 milligrams per deciliter, compared to normal fasting blood glucose levels of 70 to 100. Fasting blood glucose levels are measured after a person hasn't eaten for at least eight hours, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The participants stayed in metabolic chambers, which measure energy spent using air samples, for two days on three separate occasions, with four weeks in-between each stay. The first day of each stay was considered a control day, and the participants did no physical activity. The participants did one of three things on the second day. For one of the days, they walked at a moderate pace of about three mph for 15 minutes, 30 minutes after their a meal. On the other two days, they walked for 45 minutes at either 10:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.

The researchers measured their blood sugar levels throughout each day they were in the chambers and found that the walks after meals lowered blood glucose levels the most when comparing the exercise days to the days with no activity.

"These findings are good news for people in their 70s and 80s who may feel more capable of engaging in intermittent physical activity on a daily basis, especially if the short walks can be combined with running errands or walking the dog," DiPietro said in a press release. "The muscle contractions connected with short walks were immediately effective in blunting the potentially damaging elevations in post-meal blood sugar commonly observed in older people."

However, DiPietro emphasizes that walking 15 minutes after an exercise will not burn off all the calories that were just consumed.

"You eat a meal. You wait a half-hour and then you go for a 15-minute walk, and it has proven effective in controlling blood sugar levels, but you have to do it every day after every meal. This amount of walking is not a prescription for weight loss or cardiovascular fitness — it's a prescription for controlling blood sugar," Di Pietro told USA Today.

For pre-diabetics, it's imperative to control blood sugar because they already have high glucose levels, and are at a much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes occurs when a person's body doesn't produce enough insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise. This happens because there isn't enough insulin to transfer the glucose from the blood into the cells. People with pre-diabetes can lower their risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent by losing seven percent of their body weight, or by exercising moderately for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, according to the American Diabetes Association.

However, the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests every adult over 18 years old gets at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, with muscle-strengthening activities that exercise all major muscle groups on at least two days a week.

DiPietro aknowledged the number of participants was small, and said the study will need to be confirmed with a larger one, however, because the environment was so carefully controlled, the results were substantive.


DiPietro L, Gribok A, Stevens M, et al. Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2013.