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How to Exercise for Weight Loss If You Only Have 15 Minutes a Day

This isn’t your typical guide for how to exercise for weight loss. Hear me out… I’m recommending you start by walking just 15 minutes after a meal.

This isn’t your typical guide for how to exercise for weight loss. Hear me out… I’m recommending you start by walking just 15 minutes after a meal.

Please talk to your healthcare provider before starting any physical activity program, including walking. This article is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical guidance.

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The Role of Glucose

The reason it is so beneficial to walk after meals is because it lowers your glucose levels.

Glucose is the scientific term for blood sugar. When your glucose levels are elevated, a hormone called insulin tells your muscles, fat cells, or liver cells to take the blood sugar and use it or store it for later.

However, many people have a condition called “insulin resistance” that develops when glucose levels are chronically high. In simple terms, when a person frequently eats foods high in refined carbohydrates that spike glucose, the body stops responding to insulin’s signals to use or store the glucose. This leads to a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream, which increases risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (Seidell, 2000).

So, it is very important to be thoughtful about keeping your glucose levels stable, especially if you have a higher body weight, prediabetes, or PCOS. If you’re interested in measuring how your glucose levels change based on your eating and exercise choices, check out this post on the best glucose monitoring devices!

How Walking After Meals Helps

Walking for just 15 minutes after meals has been scientifically shown to lower glucose levels, compared to walking before meals or not on a schedule (Colberg et al., 2009; Reynolds et al., 2016).

These benefits are especially strong for people with health conditions related to impaired glucose functioning or insulin resistance, such as diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

In older individuals, DiPietro and colleagues (2013) found that walking for 15 minutes after each of participants’ three main meals per day was more effective at lowering glucose levels than walking for 45 minutes all at once in the morning before eating.

My Recommendations to Get Started

I’m not sharing this information to discourage you from doing more intensive forms of aerobic activity or adding strength training into your routine. I’ve previously shared options for week-by-week walking for weight loss programs and the best home exercise equipment for aerobic and strength workouts. Please check those resources out for more information about comprehensive exercise guidance!

If you’re looking to integrate the science-backed exercise hack I shared with you today into your daily routine, here’s how I recommend getting started.

If you only have 15 minutes per day…

Pick the meal that is either the largest meal you’ll have that day OR is highest in carbohydrates. This is a good guess for which meal might spike your glucose (blood sugar) the highest.

Then, carve out just 15 minutes after the meal you picked to go for a walk.

For example, if I was planning on having a bagel for breakfast, I may choose to go on a walk after this meal, since it is higher in refined carbohydrates that likely would spike my glucose.

If you have 30-45 minutes per day…

If you have a bit more time to spare, then I recommend doing one of two things:

#1: If you enjoy walking as your preferred form of physical activity, then build in 15 minutes to walk after your other meals in the day. The more often you use this strategy to lower your glucose after meals, the better!

#2: If you want more variety in your physical activity routine, then perhaps you choose to walk for 15 minutes after your largest meal (or the one highest in carbohydrates) in addition to other types of exercise. For example, you could complete a 20-minute strength training workout at home in the morning and then go for a 15-minute walk after dinner.

How to Enjoy Walking!

As a psychologist who works with people making healthy lifestyle changes, I want to emphasize the importance of bringing enjoyment into your exercise routine.

If you don’t like the type of physical activity you’re doing, you’re going to push it aside when you get busy, tired, stressed, or even happy!

What you enjoy, you will continue. So, let’s talk about some ways to increase your enjoyment for walking.

#1: Treat walking as self-care — make those 15 minutes all about you. Listen to music or a podcast, walk alone to collect your thoughts, or invite others to join you (or call them!) if you prefer to chat!

#2: Reward yourself — forming a new habit takes time to “stick,” even if you enjoy it! Make sure to reward yourself for following through with your daily walking goals. Some ideas for rewards could be unwinding after your walk with a cup of your favorite tea, taking a warm shower or bubble bath, or treating yourself to a relaxing experience each week you meet your goals.

#3: Get that fitness gear — having the latest fitness gear can be motivating for tracking your progress and can also be a great reward for following through with your routine! My favorite “treat yourself” options are:

Dr. Schulte’s Summary

If you only have 15 minutes for physical activity each day, go for a walk after your largest meal of the day or the meal with the most carbohydrates. Studies have found that walking after meals can lower your glucose (blood sugar) to prevent or improve obesity, diabetes, and PCOS. You can incorporate walking after one (or all!) of your meals to your existing workout plan, or use it as the first step to developing a physical activity routine. Remember to focus on finding enjoyment in walking by treating it as self-care, rewarding yourself, and making sure you have the right products to motivate and support you!

Let’s discuss in the comments: what helps you enjoy walking?

Click here to get my free guide that outlines the first three specific steps you should take ASAP to kickstart your weight loss journey!

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Colberg, S. R., Zarrabi, L., Bennington, L., Nakave, A., Somma, C. T., Swain, D. P., & Sechrist, S. R. (2009). Postprandial walking is better for lowering the glycemic effect of dinner than pre-dinner exercise in type 2 diabetic individuals. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 10(6), 394-397.

DiPietro, L., Gribok, A., Stevens, M. S., Hamm, L. F., & Rumpler, W. (2013). Three 15-min bouts of moderate postmeal walking significantly improves 24-h glycemic control in older people at risk for impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care36(10), 3262-3268.

Reynolds, A. N., Mann, J. I., Williams, S., & Venn, B. J. (2016). Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia, 59(12), 2572-2578.

Seidell, J. C. (2000). Obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes—a worldwide epidemic. British Journal of Nutrition83(S1), S5-S8.

Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.

2 replies on “How to Exercise for Weight Loss If You Only Have 15 Minutes a Day”

I really enjoyed this article.  My work schedule is very busy with long hours and I have not felt I could take the time to go to the gym etc.  But the idea of exercising for 15 minutes after a meal would be something that would fit in with my schedule.    A 15 minute walk after a meal is something that does not require going to a gym or a gym membership so it is a great way to start a exercise routine.  Thanks for the article.

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