A 15-minute evening stroll rewards you both mentally and physically.
Strength train. Meditate. Cook your own meals. Get more sleep. Keep a gratitude journal.
The list of things we’re told we need to do to live a healthier, longer life can quickly overwhelm.
What if we told you there was one simple daily routine that can check off multiple boxes for health improvement in just 15 minutes? Oh, and it’s something you’ll look forward to every day.
Here’s the secret habit: Go for a short walk after dinner, preferably with a partner or group. Why? Let us count the ways.
Health Benefit #1: A Group Walk Lifts Your Spirits
“I’ve seen this tradition of an after-dinner stroll in cities throughout Italy, and love it,” says sports dietitian Marie Spano, R.D., whose grandparents hail from Italy. “Every evening, the piazzas are filled with people socializing.”
Called la passeggiata, the evening walk isn’t about getting their heart rate up or working off those carbs. It’s about simply moseying around with loved ones—getting some fresh air, spending time with family, and stumbling into friends along the way.
Don’t worry if you live alone. Consider inviting a neighbor to join you each evening. Or drum up interest from those in your favorite SilverSneakers class.
Still no takers? Head out solo to take advantage of chance encounters for some lively small talk. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that short, casual conversations with those you don’t know well leave people with positive emotions.
Chatting about the weather or the home team’s latest win is a simple way to foster a sense of belonging, experts say.
Health Benefit #2: Socializing Is Good for Your Heart
Even if health isn’t the point of these evening walks, it’s an undeniable outcome, Spano says.
In fact, researchers spent 50 years, from 1935 to 1985, studying the Italian immigrants who made up Roseto, Pennsylvania. The purpose? To understand why their health was so good.
Compared with nearby towns, Roseto had shockingly low rates of death due to heart attacks. It turns out that the Roseto community’s strong ties to friends and family—through activities like la passeggiata—were to thank.
Scientists now call the positive influence of social support on our health the “Roseto Effect,” explains David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., author of Always Hungry? and coauthor of Always Delicious. Having strong social ties directly affect hormone, blood pressure, and inflammation levels, he adds.
Any opportunity to socialize and feel connected is a good one. According to Brigham Young University researchers, social isolation carries a health risk that’s comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Health Benefit #3: Walking After a Meal Stabilizes Your Blood Sugar
If socializing is good for your health, socializing on the move—particularly after dinner—is better. Even a leisurely stroll encourages your body to use glucose, or blood sugar, for energy or to store it for later use as glycogen, says Laura Cipullo, R.D., a dietitian and diabetes educator.
When older adults with poor blood sugar control walked for 15 minutes after each meal, they improved their blood sugar levels far better than when they went on one 45-minute walk per day, according to a Diabetes Care study.
If you compare that to most people’s post-dinner routines of watching TV, paying bills, or checking social media, it’s easy to see how going on a walk around the block immediately following dinner can help improve your health, Dr. Ludwig says.
That’s perhaps the best part of la passeggiata. It takes so little time. Just 15 minutes will have noticeable benefits, Cipullo says. And the longer lease on life is well worth the time investment.
In the mood for a more challenging walk? Check out these nine ways to kick up your walking workout.
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