There’s nothing good about elevated blood sugar levels. They can increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. And even if you don’t suffer from any of these conditions presently, when your blood sugar is at its peak, it can also spell trouble.
In fact, research has shown that your greatest risk for cardiovascular problems occurs right after you eat (called postprandial hyperglycemia).
The good news is that research also finds that moderate to intense exercise can lower blood sugar levels when done within 45 to 90 minutes of eating. But many of these studies involve biking,  which is not realistic for many people given equipment requirements, weather, routes and time involved.
This led Japanese researchers to question if merely walking up and down a flight of stairs within two hours of eating a meal could lower blood sugar levels in people with insulin resistance.
Step It Up…
Researchers recruited eight middle-aged men with impaired glucose tolerance, or insulin resistance (a pre-diabetic state), to participate in the study. All eight men performed three tests each.
For the first test, they ate lunch at noon, and then rested for two hours. After the rest period, the participants were tested to see what “stepping rate” correlated to moderate intensity (what they could do without feeling overly strained).
On the second visit, they ate lunch at noon, rested for 90 minutes, and then were asked to climb a flight stairs that contained 21 steps. They did 10 to 12 sets of stairs, with one full set consisting of ascending and descending. They did this without resting between sets.
On the third visit, they ate lunch and rested for 90 minutes, then were asked to walk on a flat 650-meter course (just shy of half a mile). They walked at a brisk, but not fast pace. Both forms of exercise took about six minutes each.
All participants had blood drawn to test blood glucose and blood insulin levels. Blood was checked three times during each visit: 90 minutes after eating and before exercise, and then again 15 and 30 minutes later (after the exercise).
Researchers found that blood glucose levels after lunch were virtually the same across participants. However, 15 minutes later (after exercise) glucose levels after the stair exercise were significantly lower than after walking — 8.7 mmol/L for stairs versus 10.3 mmol/L for walking.
Levels were found to continue to decrease when researchers tested the blood 30 minutes after eating, with glucose levels dropping to 7.3 mmol/L after doing the stairs, but to just 8.8 mmol/L after walking.
In other words, when participants simply walked, it took them twice as long to see the same reduction in blood sugar levels as it took when they did the stairs.
When it came to insulin levels, it was a similar story. Insulin levels were virtually the same immediately after lunch, but 15 minutes later, those doing the stairs saw a drop of 16 points (66 µU/mL to 50 µU/mL), compared to a mere 4-point drop after walking (71 µU/mL to 67 µU/mL).
But at the 30-minute mark, after taking the stairs, levels dropped an additional 5 points (to 45 µU/mL), while after walking, levels dropped 8 points (to 59 µU/mL). When all is said and done, that’s a whopping 14-point difference between the stairs and walking!
Researchers were thrilled with these findings. To learn that just six minutes of stair climbing at a moderate pace could effectively lower blood glucose and insulin levels could motivate sedentary individuals to start controlling their blood sugar levels through exercise.
…To Lower Blood Sugar Levels
What could be easier or more effective? Take this advice to heart and start using it immediately. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes within 90 minutes of eating and simply walk up and down the stairs.
To duplicate the study, you’ll want a flight of stairs that contains at least 20 steps and do 10 to 12 sets (up and down equals one set). If the staircase you’re using has just 10 steps, do 20 to 24 sets. If it has 30 steps, do 7 to 8 sets. You get the idea.
If balance or steadiness is an issue, make sure to hold on to the railing. Walk at a pace that is challenging but not too strenuous.
By doing this small part to reduce your blood sugar levels, you are taking huge strides in protecting your cardiovascular health and overall well-being.
 DECODE Study Group. Glucose tolerance and cardiovascular mortality – Comparison of fasting and 2-hour diagnostic criteria. Arch Intern Med. 2011;161(3):397-405.
 Larsen, JJS et al. The effect of moderate exercise on postprandial glucose homeostasis in NIDDM patients. Diabetologia. 1997;40(4):447-53.
 Larsen, JJS et al. The effect of intense exercise on postprandial glucose homeostasis in Type II diabetic patients. Diabetologia. 1999;42(11):1282-92.
 Takaishi, T et al. A short bout of stair climbing-descending exercise attenuates postprandial hyperglycemia in middle-aged males with impaired glucose tolerance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Dec 23. [Epub ahead of print.]