Does Walking Lower Blood Sugar Immediately? Tips and Timing

Control of blood sugar levels is the key to managing diabetes and avoiding its complications. Some simple lifestyle changes can help control blood glucose levels with physical activities being especially important. This article explores whether walking lowers blood sugar, the optimal times for walking, and how long it takes to lower glucose levels. It also covers ways to add more steps to your day along with other easy tips for managing blood sugar.

Walking and blood glucose management

Diabetes is quite prevalent in the United States of America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2021 study estimated that 29.7 million people in the United States, which is 8.9 percent of the U.S. population, had been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus (1).

Sugar control is a central point to diabetes management. Apart from medical management, including medications that lower blood glucose levels, physical activity also plays an important role in blood glucose management. Uncontrolled blood levels result in complications of diabetes which can be heart-related (cardiovascular), kidney-related or nerve-related (2).

Physical activity is a broad term that encompasses vigorous exercises as well as simple activities such as walking. In fact, walking is the easiest physical activity and does not require special preparation or precautions like other exercises (3).

Does walking lower blood sugar? If yes, how?

Walking is a form of aerobic exercise. It increases metabolism and helps with weight loss, which ultimately increases insulin sensitivity and controls blood glucose levels. Walking also increases the uptake of glucose by muscle cells, which ultimately lowers blood glucose levels (3, 4).

Now that you know the answer to the question ‘Does walking lower blood sugar?’, here are other health benefits of walking (3):

  • Improved metabolism
  • Better health of your heart
  • Weight loss
  • Decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Improvement in retaining memory 
  • Better mood

How long does it take to lower blood glucose levels by walking?

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Some important parameters for diabetes control are hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), postprandial glucose levels (post-meal), and fasting glucose levels. Among them, the gold standard is HbA1C (this test determines the blood glycemic control in the last 3-4 months). 

Recently, postprandial glucose has gained importance in determining glycemic control more than HbA1c, particularly in predicting cardiovascular complications of diabetes (5). The variations in post-meal glucose levels are also more closely correlated with HbA1C than fasting glucose levels are (6).

Several studies have shown the importance of reducing postprandial glucose levels and that the optimal time for walking is after meals (5, 7).

Type 2 diabetes is particularly common in older people. A small-scale study showed that post-meal walks in older adults reduced glucose levels three hours after eating, compared to individuals who did not walk after meals (7). 

The same study also demonstrated relatively better results for recurrent shorter-duration walks after having food than one lengthy morning walk. Particularly important is the mid-day walk when insulin levels drop to a minimum. (Insulin is the hormone responsible for lowering blood glucose levels) (7).

When you eat food, your blood glucose levels rise as food is absorbed through your gut. This glucose needs to get to your cells and be utilized there to produce energy and allow your cells to work. Insulin is required to transport this glucose inside the cells. 

Diabetic patients have problems with insulin secretion or insulin sensitivity, which prevents glucose from getting into cells. Walking or any other kind of exercise after meals improves glucose uptake at the cellular level and insulin sensitivity. Hence, it helps keep the blood glucose levels in the optimal range (8).

To sum it up, glucose levels after meals are important in determining overall blood sugar control. Exercise like walking after meals is therefore considered the most beneficial as it controls the post-meal glucose levels and the spikes in blood sugar that occur after eating in diabetic patients. 

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Blood sugar levels after exercise

Exercise lowers blood glucose levels the same way walking does. It does this in two ways, as described below (9). 

  1. Exercise increases the glucose uptake by muscles when they contract and need more fuel to keep functioning. Exercise does this without the need for insulin.
  2. Exercise also enhances the responsiveness of tissues to insulin and hence improves its function inside the body. 

Exercise is now considered an integral part of a treatment plan for people with diabetes. The following are the health benefits of exercise in patients who are struggling with high sugar levels (10):

  • Weight loss
  • Lowering your sugar levels
  • Reducing the risk of complications such as heart (cardiovascular) and brain-related diseases (cerebrovascular accidents)
  • Improving fitness

It is believed that moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, can be included without evaluation. However, more intense exercises may require a healthcare provider’s evaluation to make sure such activities are safe for a particular individual. Your healthcare provider will assess the related complications that may restrict you from performing those activities. These complications are mostly related to heart (coronary artery disease and cardiovascular diseases) (11).

The optimal duration to prevent and delay diabetes is almost 2.5 hours of moderate to intense weekly exercise. If you are already diagnosed with diabetes, 150 minutes of exercise divided into at least three days in a week is recommended (11).

Be aware of low sugar levels

Although exercise is recommended for lowering blood glucose levels, it may result in hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) in individuals with diabetes. Those already taking anti-diabetic medication and insulin to control diabetes are more prone to experiencing low blood glucose levels from exercise and physical activities (8, 10).

It is important to check your blood glucose levels before and after exercise to keep track of how your body reacts to that type of physical activity. If your blood glucose levels drop too low, such as below 70 mg/dl, do not continue the exercise. Instead, eat something to keep the levels at least around 100 mg/dl (8, 10).

There is a 15-15 rule for low sugar levels. This means you should check your sugar levels 15 minutes before exercise. If it is below 100 mg/dl, you should eat at least 15 to 20 grams of carbs, and then check your sugar levels after 15 minutes again. If it remains low, repeat the steps (9).

Blood sugar control is particularly important as it dictates a lot of complications of diabetes. The most important non-medical intervention in controlling sugar levels is good physical activity. It can be strenuous exercises or just a moderate walk. The most effective time for walking is after having a meal. Physical activities enhance insulin sensitivity and increase glucose uptake by cells, thus lowering blood glucose levels. You should monitor your blood glucose levels before and after exercise to avoid low sugar levels. 

Ways to add more steps to your day

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If you have led a sedentary life and are planning to change your lifestyle, it must be difficult to initiate the change, but it’s never too late to start. Walking is an exercise that does not need special preparations and equipment. In fact, you can start walking in your comfortable clothes and shoes. Everything you need is a safe place to walk near your home or apartment (3).

Different ways to continue walking are as follows (3, 12):

  • If you are thinking of getting something from a nearby area, you can walk instead of driving.
  • You can drop at an earlier station on the bus to walk a little extra.
  • You can choose your favorite music while walking to make it more enjoyable.
  • You may ask a friend or partner to join you to make it more enjoyable. 
  • If you are waiting for an appointment or your flight, you may walk until it’s your turn.
  • You may take your pet with you when you go for a walk.
  • You may join a group of people who regularly walk to keep yourself more motivated.
  • You should start slowly instead of aiming for big goals from the start. 
  • You should use stairs instead of using an escalator or elevator.
  • You should set a daily alarm to remind you to walk regularly.

Other easy ways to manage blood sugar

Other than exercise, there are a few more ways to control blood sugar levels, including the following (13, 14, 15, 16):

  • Regularly monitor your blood glucose levels to determine what disturbs your sugar levels and what factors are good for your glucose levels.
  • Follow a fixed time for your meals, and never skip your meals, particularly when you are already taking anti-diabetic medicines.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, choose fruits over processed foods and baked desserts.
  • Weight management is quite important in managing diabetes.
  • Learn about the plate method; take a 9-inch plate and divide it into two halves. Fill the one-half with non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and green beans. Divide the other half into two further halves and add lean protein in one while filling the other with carbohydrates such as fruits, grains, or starchy food.
  • Try to reduce the smoking habits slowly to zero. Any kind of nicotine, either vaping, secondhand smoke, or tobacco, can make diabetes difficult to manage and also increase the risk of complications.
  • Salt can increase the risk of multiple complications associated with diabetes, such as the risk of heart disease and blood pressure. Try to reduce the quantity of salt to almost 6g a day (16).
  • Try to replace processed and red meats with healthier foods such as beans, lentils, eggs, fish, poultry, chicken, etc.
  • Reduce the number of alcoholic beverages to 14 units a week. It may also affect your weight-reducing goals as it contains sugar and adds to weight (16).
  • Replace juices and sodas with plain water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Be careful with your meal’s portion size. For example, one serving of cheese is about the size of six grapes, while one serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. You may use different measuring glasses and other scales to get an idea of how many servings are in your portion of food.
  • Cut down on added sugars.

Different ways to motivate yourself to keep walking on a daily basis include listening to your favorite music, taking a friend or partner with you, stopping at a bus station at a farther distance than your destination, keeping alarms, and slowly increasing your steps day by day instead of aiming for big goals on the first day. Other than exercise, there are a few ways to manage blood sugar levels, such as limiting alcohol and smoking, eating regularly, and choosing healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, fish, and chicken. Keep track of your blood sugar levels, and be careful with your portion size.

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Does lifting weights lower blood sugar?

Lifting weights is a type of resistance or strength training. Resistance training is equally important in reducing blood glucose levels by increasing insulin sensitivity as aerobic exercises. Strength training also lowers the risk of diabetes and reduces insulin resistance which is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes (17, 18, 19, 20).

Is it good to walk when blood sugar is high?

When you have high blood sugar levels, walking can help lower them by enhancing glucose uptake by muscle cells and increasing insulin sensitivity (9). In fact, high glucose levels after meals can be managed with a short post-meal walk, which can help your body utilize the glucose and maintain the levels back to normal range (5, 7).

Does lying down lower blood sugar?

Lying down may impact blood pressure readings (21). However, not much evidence or research has been done to date that has found any association between blood sugar levels and body position.

Why do diabetics wake up at 3 am?

Usually, our body produces hormones between 3 and 8 am that increase the blood glucose levels. In response to this, insulin is increased naturally to combat the high glucose levels. However with diabetes, either due to resistance to insulin or the body’s inability to produce insulin, this high glucose may produce symptoms that can make diabetics wake up at 3 am (22).

Can you avoid diabetes if it runs in your family?

Suppose you have a family history of diabetes. In that case, you can adopt different lifestyle changes, such as managing your weight and being physically active, to delay or prevent the development of diabetes. Even if you are pre-diabetic, these changes can reverse that (23).

Summary

Diabetes is quite prevalent in the United States of America. Sugar control is the goal of diabetes management. Physical activities, including resistance training and simple walking, can enhance insulin sensitivity and also lower blood glucose levels by directly moving the sugar to the cells.

The most appropriate time for walking to control blood sugar levels is after meals. Be aware of low glucose levels that can occur with exercise if you are taking medications for diabetes. Keep track of your blood sugar levels.

Tricks to add more steps to your daily walk include taking a friend with you, joining walking communities, stopping at a bus station a little farther from your destination, and listening to your favorite music. Other ways to manage blood glucose levels are replacing added sugars with natural fruits, avoiding sodas and juices, regularly checking your blood sugar, no nicotine strategy, using the plate method (a method to divide non-starch, starch, and protein portions in your meal), and weight loss.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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