When you eat a heavy meal, it can often make you feel sluggish afterward and even disrupt sleep. But getting up and taking a short walk after eating can help combat this. Not only is walking a great low-impact activity to help you stay healthy overall, it can specifically aid digestion and control blood sugar levels — preventing crashes in energy. Here, a look at the research and why evening walks are particularly beneficial for digestion and controlling blood sugar:
EFFECTS OF HIGH BLOOD SUGAR
Chronic high blood sugar can negatively affect your health. Over time, it can cause damaged blood vessels, nerve problems, kidney disease and vision issues. Chronic high blood sugar can also lead to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance, risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.
HOW WALKING AFTER EATING HELPS
While walking any time of the day can have positive effects on health, taking a stroll after a meal may be especially effective for managing blood sugar levels. A study published in Diabetes Care found walking for 15 minutes after a meal three times a day was more effective in lowering glucose levels three hours after eating compared to 45 minutes of sustained walking during the day.
Walking at night might be the most beneficial since many people eat their largest meal in the evening and then tend to sit on the couch or lay down after. Another study focusing on individuals with Type 2 diabetes found that even 20 minutes of walking post-meals may have a stronger effect on lowering the glycemic impact of an evening meal in individuals with Type 2 diabetes, compared to walking before a meal or not at all.
HOW IT CAN HELP DIGESTION
Individuals suffering from digestion problems and discomfort may also see some benefits from walking. A small 2008 study found walking increased the rate at which food moved through the stomach. Other research has found that walking after a meal may improve gastric emptying in patients with longstanding diabetes, where food may typically take longer to digest and empty from the stomach.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Walking is one of the most studied forms of exercise, with research demonstrating it’s an ideal activity for improving health and longevity. Try going for a brief walk after a meal (especially in the evening) to help with digestion and blood sugar control.
The next time you go to the gym, take a look around: you’ll probably see all kinds of exercises, some good and some not-so-good.
The unfortunate truth is that not all exercises are created equal. Some are incredibly effective at building muscle and melting fat; others are ineffective and can even do more harm than good. (Worse, the bad ones are sometimes very popular.)
Read on for our list of the worst exercises — the ones you should avoid at all costs. If you currently have them in your exercise routine, try our alternatives, which are far more effective and take your body to the next level.
1. SITUPS AND CRUNCHES
Situps and crunches are as old-school as it gets: You see them in PE class, boot camps and military training around the world. But get ready for some big news because these tummy exercises aren’t effective or good for you.
Your core — which consists of your rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, etc. — is designed to help your body stabilize and brace against twisting and bending (not generate it).
Situps and crunches, however, eliminate the bracing and put your body into bad positions: You pull your neck forward, round your shoulders, flex your spine and put a lot of stress on your lower back. (It also goes without saying that you should avoid the situp machine too for those reasons.)
Instead, choose ab exercises that help you maintain a good posture throughout the exercise. If you want to take your core strength to the next level and get washboard abs, try our super effective 14-day plank challenge: It uses many different variations to blast your midsection from different angles to test your muscles (and your mind).
2. SMITH MACHINE EXERCISES
With the exception of the inverted row, avoid all exercises on the Smith machine. It seems safe because the bar has a lock that activates when you let go, but it puts your body in unnatural positions because the bar only moves in a straight, rigid line, which is not how you move in real life.
Also, because the bar follows a straight path, you don’t get to improve your stability or balance and you won’t get the same muscle gains you’d like. Researchers found that free-weight squatsand free-weight bench presses activated more muscles than doing the same exercise on a Smith machine.
Stick to the free-weight version of your exercise: barbell squat, dumbbell bench press, etc. You’ll get more overall benefits and build more muscle and strength.
3. SEATED TWIST MACHINE
Remember what we said about how the core is supposed to move? Well, the vertebrae of your spine at your lower back can only twist 13 degrees in each direction, which is tinier than one hour on a clock. But the seated twist machines actually crank your body well beyond that range-of-motion.
If you want to improve your rotational strength, try the kneeling Palloff press. Get on both knees and set a cable handle to chest height. Facing perpendicular to the cable, bring the handle to your chest, and push it straight forward. Do it facing both ways. You have to brace your trunk to resist twisting and turning, which fires your core and keeps your spine in a safe position.
You might see these done in gyms or even physical therapy centers in an effort to “strengthen” your lower back. But the problem is it cranks your lower back into hyperextension while putting tremendous load and compression onto your lumbar spine. (Most people have a lower back that’s already too extended, which creates something called “lordosis.”)
Substitute supermans with another exercise if it’s a part of your current fitness program. Instead of directly targeting your lower back, focus on strengthening your entire trunk — back, abs, obliques, etc. — with core exercises where you maintain great posture throughout.
Try the single-arm farmers carry: Grab a heavy dumbbell in one hand, keep your chest up and shoulder blades squeezed, then walk. Maintain a neutral lower back and don’t arch excessively.
5. BACK EXTENSIONS
The back extension machine tries to strengthen your lower back by repeatedly flexing and extending it, which can cause problems. Worse, a lot of people hold a weight plate behind their head or at their chest, which further increases the stress on your spine.
This popular exercise targets your shoulders and traps. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst exercises you can do for your shoulders because it impinges your shoulder joints. The upright row actually forces you to internally rotate your shoulders and pull a heavy weight while in a poor position, which can lead to all kinds of problems.
Instead, to build strong and wide shoulders, replace upright rows with the dumbbell overhead press. It targets your upper body without adding unnecessary (and impinging) stress to your shoulder joint.
7. BEHIND-THE-NECK LAT PULLDOWNS OR BEHIND-THE-NECK PRESSES
Avoid any upper-body exercise where you pull or push from behind your neck because it puts tremendous strain on your shoulders. In a behind-the-neck position, your shoulders are almost at their maximal limit on extension in those positions — throwing weight on top of it just adds more strain to a fragile area.
Always do lat pulldowns, chin-ups, pullups, etc. toward your collar bones; if you’re going to press a weight overhead, start with the barbell at your collar bone or use dumbbells or kettlebells.
If you feel overwhelmed trying to build a healthier life for yourself, stop stressing. You can perform the simplest tasks and still create a more active, flourishing life. Plus, executing such small activities can put you on a path toward accomplishing your larger health and fitness goals.
If you struggle with any of these issues, try incorporating these easy actions into your daily life and you should begin noticing encouraging changes:
If you’re ever feeling unproductive, a power nap could help. In a study published by Sleep, researchers found a nap lasting as little as 10 minutes mitigated short-term performance impairment. “What’s surprising is how little sleep is necessary for better focus,” says Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO of Reverie, an organization that creates sleep systems. Plus, he says a nap can reduce your body’s levels of cortisol — a stress hormone responsible “for a lot of the negative physiological effects.”
If you’re ever lacked the motivation to work out, spend a moment thinking of friends and family. In a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers asked 220 sedentary adults to complete one of two self-transcendence tasks: reflect on what matters most to them (such as friends and family) or make repeated positive wishes for both strangers and people they know. A control group reflected on what mattered least to them. Then, everyone viewed health messages encouraging physical activity. Results showed those who thought of others decreased their overall sedentary behavior versus those who did not think of others.
Researchers looked at data from almost 92,000 middle-aged people and found that those with disturbed sleep patterns were more likely to experience depression or bipolar disorder. Worse yet, one of the culprits of bad sleep was something completely within people’s control: scrolling the internet in the middle of the night on their cellphones, according to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. To negate the negative effects of disrupted sleep, Rawls-Meehan suggests using an old-fashioned alarm clock and charging your phone overnight in the kitchen — completely out of reach.
Feeling sluggish and bloated? Dr. Brian Levine, the founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York, says to avoid foods like white rice and white sugar that cause inflammation. Although you might crave these foods, swapping them for a healthier alternative just one meal per week can help you begin a healthy diet transformation — you don’t need to make sweeping food changes right away.
For example, instead of chicken and rice, try chicken with cauliflower. You can pulse the vegetable in a food processor until it resembles the consistency of rice, say Jessica Jones, RD, and Wendy Lopez, RD, of Food Heaven Made Easy. Or, swap one cup of white sugar for a half a cup of honey. According to a review published in Pharmacognosy Research, “honey can act as a natural therapeutic agent for various medicinal purposes” such as diabetes and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
You don’t need meditation experience to begin a compassionate meditation practice. In fact, all participants in a study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience had no background in meditation. But in 20 minutes a day for two months, researchers found people who practiced compassionate meditation increased their social support, felt more purpose in life, decreased illness symptoms and enhanced their life satisfaction. To start such a practice, simply sit with your eyes closed, concentrate on your breathing and think of someone you love. As you get more comfortable, expand your thoughts to more people you know, then on to strangers and on to the world. Although you will still hear bad world news, you should start to achieve a healthier ability to digest negative information.
Planks are one of the hardest exercises to get right. Yet, most of us incorporate planks into our workouts, whether it’s running, lifting or doing bootcamp. What many of us don’t realize is we’re planking all wrong.
“Planking is the gold standard exercise for core strength and stability,” explains Shana Verstegen, fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Wisconsin. Doing them properly has real benefits. “They will make you a better athlete, help prevent/reduce back pain and allow you to move better in life.”
Here, learn how to maximize the perks of this exercise staple.
Most exercises can benefit from a bit of glute engagement, and planks are no exception. “Squeezing your glutes causes a bit of a stretch in your hip flexors, which transfers more of the workload to the abdominal muscles,” explains Greg Pignataro, certified strength and conditioning coach at Grindset Fitness. And your abdominal muscles are what you’re trying to work, right? “Additionally, contracting the glutes will reduce strain on your lumbar spine by preventing your lower back from sagging,” Pignataro adds.
Seriously. “Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor from the university of Waterloo who has spent 30+ years researching the spine and back pain, touts groundbreaking research about core ‘stiffness,’” Verstegen notes. “Holding planks for 10 seconds at high tension followed by a brief rest period before the next rep creates a much stronger core with fewer injuries.
“Pavel Tsatsouline, most famous for popularizing kettlebell training, agrees. He designed the ‘RKC’ plank around this philosophy of full-body stiffness and also promotes shorter, stronger plank holds.” Try doing a set of 3–10-second holds with maximum contraction for the best core strength gains.
Just as every body is different, every perfect plank setup is different, too. “Due to individual differences in body size and limb length, the ideal position is probably slightly different for every single person,” notes Pignataro. “This is important, because planks should challenge your core musculature, not hurt your elbows or shoulders. Experiment by moving your elbows and feet a few inches inward, outward, backward or forward until you find your sweet spot!”
Some people struggle to feel their abs firing during planks. If that sounds familiar, try this: “Once in plank position, pretend you are looking over a fence by pulling your elbows down so you can get your head and neck to feel taller,” recommends Brian Nguyen, CEO of Elementally Strong. “This will pull your hips and shoulders into alignment and you should feel more where you want it … abs, baby!”
“To make your planks count, every muscle needed to stabilize your spine is firing at a maximal effort,” says Kari Woodall, owner of BLAZE.
Doing so can even even help with your preferred method of exercise. “If I want to crush my deadlifts, I need the requisite core strength to pick up something heavy. If my body doesn’t understand what a maximal contraction feels like, then I am not only limiting how much I can lift, but I’m increasing my risk of injury if I do pick up something heavy,” she explains.
Not feeling the burn? “Squeeze your armpits like you have million-dollar bills tucked underneath each one, and you get to keep the money if no one can rip them away from you,” Woodall adds.