cows walking after a meal

This articles discusses how walking after a meal for just 10-15 minutes is good for you. Along with some traditional Japanese advice and a brief discussion on gestational diabetes…

My wife told me this expression. She has quite an easy-going nature, As a small child, After eating dinner,’ she’d like to spread out on the floor and relax. Her grandparents would tell her:

Tabete sugu neru to ushi ni naru
食べて すぐ 寝ると 牛 に なる

It roughly translates as:

“You will become a cow if you lay down straight after meals”

The expression is meant as an admonishment of what is seen as bad behaviour in children. Her grandparents come from a more stoic and harder time of life and so they probably didn’t like to see kids do what they perceive to be lazy. In other words relaxing or loathing

Changing Attitudes

The world has changed somewhat in developed countries, and attitudes have become a lot more easygoing. I am quite sure my grandparents would have felt the same way as hers.

I am inclined to feel we need time to loath and laze. It makes us more productive as human beings. Creativity and innovation is born from relaxation and freedom to contemplate and experiment. The only thing that comes from being forced to work is slavery and excessive bureaucracy.

Loathing is laziness

It likely comes from the Puritanical Methodist work-ethic that was instilled into our population to make them better workers. Can’t let the proles do any loathing around. Hence those brainwashing expressions – early to bed, early to rise makes Jack healthy, wealthy and wise, the devil makes work of idle hands, all work and no play makes Jack Nicholson kill his wife and so on and so on. Jack sure was lazy.

My parents also to a lesser degree had a similar attitude but they made more allowances then their parents before them.

Back to the Cow

Going back to this expression ‘Tabete sugu neru to ushi ni naru’ – ‘You will become a cow if you lay down straight after meals’:

Don’t be a cow man, they’re boring to look at

I suppose there is a weird contradiction in writing this article. Cows munch and munch on grass, but don’t they also do a lot of walking in their green fields?

In my teenage years, the field opposite my house was full of cows. When I looked out the window, I’d see them spend a lot of time munching away on grass, but not doing much walking. The only time, they’d move in any great hurry is when the farmer wanted them to. I suppose when left alone, they’d walk from one patch of grass to another, but that was pretty much it.

The Human Cow

A cow eats grass. Then they spit it out and eat again and chew. They also poo where they eat. Who wants to be a cow? Not me.

I suppose we look on cows as little more than livestock – animals for our use as food. So comparing someone to a cow after eating is a bit of an insult. This expression: ‘Tabete sugu neru to ushi ni naru’ comes from the idea that if you lay down after a meal you will become like a cow.

Truth in these old sayings

But perhaps there’s wisdom behind this traditional Japanese expression. It may be that you are supposed to be active after a meal in order to be healthier.

A small amount of movement or activity can aid in digestion after a meal. For example, in this scientific study, it was found that walking after a meal for as little as 10 minutes helped reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and in fact, having regular shorter walks was more beneficial than longer ones meaning that you don’t need to go on a pilgrimage to get the benefits. Walking after a meal for a short time around the block or to the local shop  is beneficial. I think it also helps clears your head a little.

Don’t over-do the activity

After a big meal, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym, do yoga or any other physical or even mental activity. The body needs to concern itself with digestion, which requires a lot of energy.

If you did press-ups or started trying to do a yoga headstand, you’d probably spew. Or at least just dry-retch a few times. And who wants to concentrate on mental work after just having a big lunch?

There are some exceptions. In my father’s case, he has spent his whole life working doing  labouring, farming and gardening work. He would have lunch and after a short time, go straight back to work, which involves heavy physical activity and I think a lot of people in labouring jobs are able to do this.

So perhaps this is due to conditioning based on the kinds of foods you eat and the general robustness of your body. A couple of observations about his digestion are that it is really good and he has not digestive problems. He is in good physical condition and he has absolutely no craving for sugary snacks like biscuits.

Easy activity

Ultimately, there is one exercise that is good for aiding digestion which is not so intensive. That exercise is walking. Particularly walking after a meal

In my previous article, I discussed 7 reasons why walking in good for you. And here is another reason to add to that list: walking helps you digest your food. Walking after a meal is perfect. It is low intensity and can be carried out in a relaxed manner. This means it helps you be active but also digest your food at the same time. In other words, walking after a meal means you won’t be a cow.

Gestational Diabetes and Walking

I’ll give another example. My wife was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with my first son. This is a type of diabetes that only affects women when they become pregnant. It means their body doesn’t process carbohydrates effectively and when they eat carbs, their blood sugar levels can go too high.

Other side effects are that they can feel very tired after eating too much carbohydrates and at worse, there may be possible complications with the birth as they baby can get too big.

Explosion in Gestational Diabetes Cases: Why?

Apparently, the criteria for this condition was changed a few years ago, meaning that more people are getting diagnosed with this condition then ever before.

In this case report from the Journal of Women’s Health: Overdiagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Pregnant Woman: A Case Report’ (PDF), the author discussed:

“The new criteria proposed would diagnose – 18% of all women in pregnancy as having GDM, which is double the proportion of women hitherto designated”

“Considering that the screening test has poor reproducibility for mild cases, the evidence of benefit for the newly diagnosed pregnant women is weak and the benefit modest at best.”

The author does acknowledge the risks of gestational diabetes, however he suggests focusing resources on those women that are at high risk of GD:

“It is well recognised that established diabetes is an important risk factor for several serious adverse pregnancy outcomes and the risk is greater if glycemic control is poor. Consequently, screening high risk women for undiagnosed type 2 diabetes at the first prenatal visit is wise. However, pregnant women at low risk with fasting mild glycemia may be not significant. For these reasons the IADPSG proposals seem a striking example of overdiagnosis.”

Spreading resources too thin

This is not to say that gestational diabetes shouldn’t be taken seriously. But by over-diagnosing women, some of whom will not be at risk of the condition, the risk is that medical resources, consultants and nutritionists will be spread more thin and less resources can be given to those women that are at a very real risk of gestational diabetes. Here the author of the study above noted:

“Could the identification of a greater number of women at risk of an adverse pregnancy itself cause harm? It is well documented that a diagnostic category of GDM, irrespective of the glucose control achieved, in some instances is likely to result in increased interventions, earlier delivery, an increased Caesarean section rate, and a higher number of babies being admitted to special care nurseries. Could these real hazards offset some of the potential advantages?”

A personal example on the over-stretched NHS

An over-diagnosis of GD potentially creates challenges for an already strained medical system like in the UK. To give a persepctive on this, I will give the example of my wife’s delivery of our first child in the UK, NHS system.

As she was diagnosed with Gestational diabetes, she was automatically told she would have to be induced. Some hospitals follow this procedure, others not. She was fine with this and trusted the doctors. Personally, I would have preferred a natural birth, but she is the one having the baby not me, so I respected her choice. She was also very clear that she wanted to have an epidural. No pain for me thanks.

Queue for the Labour Room

The problem is that when we went into hospital and she was given the drugs to set off the induction process, we didn’t realise the maternity ward would be filled to capacity, the staff minimal and overworked and that there would be a queue for the labour room.

After contractions began, my wife was fine for the first 6 hours, but then the pain became more intense. A nurse came and examined and told her she was ready for the labour room. However, we were also told that there was queue for the labour ward, so she would have to wait.

17 hours later

And this is what we were repeatedly told for the next 17 hours – there was no space on the labour room, we would just have to wait. My wife just had to put up with the pain along with some acupuncture I applied to try to take the pain away.

Finally, enough was enough, and we had to push the nurses to move us to the labour room. Unfortunately, at this point, it was too late to have an epidural so my wife had to endure the birth without any pain relief.

I would have to say, that if you are going to induce a woman, make sure you have the resources available to do it properly.

Looking at the debate behind the diagnosis of gestational diabetes over the years, you have to question just how many of these people really do have gestational diabetes? – but that is another matter. Anyway, fortunately, this condition can be managed very well with the ‘right’ kind of diet.

Managing Diet with Gestational Diabetes

When a person is diagnosed with this condition, they have to take a small pin-prick blood test around 2-4 times a day after meals and then test their sugar level with a special electronic sugar measuring tool. It is a kind of hassle to do, but it does afford one interesting opportunity. You can assess how what you eat affects your body’s sugar levels. And it can be very informative.

GI Foods and Gestational Diabetes

At the beginning of her gestational diabetes diagnosis, she followed the standard hospital nutritional advice, which was quite basic and mostly consisted of being given a sheet with lists of foods that had a high GI index, medium GI index and low GI index. She was told to eat a ‘balanced diet’ from that list and other then that was given very little guidance. In fact, one of the ‘recommended foods’ was pasta, which is basically refined carbohydrate and can cause a high blood-sugar reading.

When she followed the basic hospital advice, her sugar levels went too high. So, she took things into her own hands and started designing her own diet plan based on knowledge from Japan.

Konjac

My wife took other steps to keep her sugar levels balanced, such as eating her foods in a specific order and generally reducing carbohydrates (and sugar). She also included more vegetables, salad and protein and incorporated different types of food, not so commonly known in Europe, but well known in Asia. One of these was a Japanese food product called konjac– a plant based food that can be used as a carb substitute, but has almost zero calories.

It is available in Japanese and some Korean supermarkets. Here is an Amazon link: Yutaka White Low Carb Shirataki konjac Noodles. She used it to make chinese stir-fry dishes, with vegetables, soya sauce and meat. It really tastes good.

Result: Lower Blood Sugar Scores

My wife’s scores were mostly within the so-called ‘safe zone’, so much so that the nutritionist even asked her just what she was doing?

However, when my wife tried to explain her diet and some of the foods she incorporated, they soon lost interest. They probably wanted a short answer.

Diets and People

Designing a diet involves more then giving someone a list of GI foods. You have to consider the person in front of you – their culture, their eating habits, their living habits, their willpower, and their mind. Also their general understanding of nutrition. Most people (and that includes doctors) have very limited understanding of nutrition.

Why has Gestational Diabetes exploded recently?

On a side note, I just want to comment that gestational diabetes is another added burden and stress on women that are already going through a lot of changes with pregnancy. I’ve heard of women crying after attending the Gestational Diabetes clinics, because they struggle to keep their sugar levels within the ‘safe’ range.

I have to question the accuracy of the diagnostic tests and also the false readings that can come from the daily pin-prick tests, where if you took a test twice in a row, the score can be vastly different. I haven’t heard a reason for this that makes scientific sense.

Also, I’m curious how gestational diabetes has become such a large medical issue in recent years, which requires lots of medical resources? Isn’t is time the Daily Mail did an scaremongering article on it like they normally would do on other health conditions?

Walking after a meal and Gestational Diabetes

Going back to the Cow expression: “You will become a cow if you lay down straight after meals” (Tabete sugu neru to ushi ni naru):

One of the most helpful things to do after eating to keep those sugar levels normal is going walking after a meal. As an experiment, if my wife went for a walk straight after eating a meal, her sugar levels were within the safe parameter. This was especially more important if she ate a meal, which she felt was carb-high and which may likely lead to a higher score.

But more than that, the walk really helped to calm her mind and enabled her to get a little exercise at the same time.

Walking after a meal

I think walking after a meal is not just beneficial for women with gestational diabetes. It can be beneficial for everyone to go for a stroll after a meal to help with digestion.

For example, if you are an office-worker, going walking after a meal post-lunch will help to clear your head before your afternoon work begins. Or going for a stroll after an evening meal in the evening can help calm the mind and prepare yourself for sleep.

And for pregnant women, it may be harder to be follow a standard exercise programme with the added weight and other effects of pregnancy, so a short walk after a meal could be an easy way to get some sunshine and exercise, which can also help with your sugar levels, if you have gestational diabetes.

Walking after a meal will help you digest more efficiently and is a good habit to get in. The walks don’t need to be long. Even as short as ten to fifteen minutes will convey benefits. If you have a dog, you have an excuse to go walking after a meal.

Also, its far better than being a cow.

Update July 2019: My first kid was born and actually his weight was normal. In fact, he was bordering on underweight and had jaundice for the first few months. So much for gestational diabetes.

For my second kid, my wife was once again diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and my wife followed her standard eating practices and exercise. Curiously, we did discover that eating MacDonalds Cheeseburgers, did not cause a spike in her sugar readings. This is not an endorsement for MacDonalds, but it did make things easier for my wife for treats.

My second kid was born last year and while he is bigger than our first, he was not as big or as heavy as we were led to believe he may be. His weight was well within the normal levels

So, I would suggest that if you do get the gestational diabetes diagnosis, don’t panic. Do alter your eating habits and monitor your sugar levels. Also see how your body reacts to certain food and find alternatives if necessary. But definitely try not to worry.

References

Reynolds et al. 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. October 2006. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016 Diabetologia (2016) 59:2572–2578 DOI 10.1007/s00125-016-4085-2. (PDF)

Michelle Henderson. Gestational diabetes may be Overdiagnosed. The Australian. 20th August 2012 (website link) & (PDF)

Massimo Bolognesi. Overdiagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Pregnant Woman: A Case Report. The Journal of Woman’s Health. 2014. 4:3. http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2167-0420.1000234 (PDF)

Picture Accreditation: Copyright: arinahabich / 123RF Stock Photo