Naturally, any cookie, bread, or soda lover in the room is going to be wondering: Does this mean I can eat whatever I want, as long as I walk after? Does walking actually reduce all the negative effects of sugar, or just some? Essentially: are there limits?
According to Amaral: “Walking is quite effective for lowering blood sugar with a normal intake of macronutrients but the breadth of its blood sugar-lowering benefits is all dependent on the load, or amount of sugar, taken in, and other nutrients consumed at the same time.”
As she explains it, if you’re getting a massive influx of sugar—for example, you drink a coca-cola on an empty stomach, which delivers 30 grams of sugar straight to your bloodstream—a post-meal walk isn’t going to be as effective. If you sipped the soda with a source of protein, healthy fat, or fiber, though, you’ll experience less of a spike. “The fibers help to blunt the response of glucose by taking longer to cleave, digest and absorb,” Amaral says. Looking to pair your treats wisely? Here are a few foods that are high in fiber, and the best fiber supplements for blood sugar balance.
Of course, even the best post-meal walk won’t totally erase the negative consequences of high sugar intake. “It will not completely negate the adverse effects of eating sugars and processed foods though, especially as they can still activate pro-inflammatory pathways,” Amaral says.
She also points out that everyone has a slightly different metabolic response to food. (She’s had patients follow the exact same diet and still have massive variations in their blood sugars.) One study suggests that factors like gut microbiome composition and individualized labs could determine how you respond to exercise after a meal.
In the future, we might be able to use AI to predict bio-individual glucose responses. For now, though, we can study how our bodies respond to different foods by noticing how we feel after meals or watching out for these signs of a blood sugar spike. Continuous glucose monitors can also provide more granular data on blood sugar fluctuations, and how they change with exercise.