Chances are you don’t know where your soleus muscles are. But according to researchers from a groundbreaking study at the University of Houston, a simple movement of these muscles while you’re seated in your chair could save you from high blood sugar and obesity.
Here’s the story…
It turns out that the soleus muscles, located at the back of your legs (in your calves) from just below your knees to your ankles, possess unique characteristics that make them different from most other muscles in your body.
And the Texas researchers say that moving these muscles ever so slightly pulls blood sugar and blood fats out of circulation in ways that rev up your metabolism to burn calories for hours.
Increases Metabolism Better than Aerobic Exercise
Houston researchers have discovered that even though these muscles comprise only about one percent of your body weight, they can improve the metabolic health of the other 99 percent of your body.
This research team devised an exercise of these muscles they call the “soleus pushup” that you can do while sitting that improves the body’s control of blood sugar. And they say their results show the soleus pushup’s prolonged improvements to oxidative metabolism are more effective than aerobic exercise, weight loss, or intermittent fasting. (Oxidative metabolism is an important part of fat burning – it’s the process that occurs when muscles use oxygen to burn blood sugar and fats.)1
“We never dreamed that this muscle has this type of capacity. It’s been inside our bodies all along, but no one ever investigated how to use it to optimize our health, until now,” says researcher Marc Hamilton, Ph.D. “When activated correctly, the soleus muscle can raise local oxidative metabolism to high levels for hours, not just minutes, and does so by using a different fuel mixture.”
Why Moving Soleus Muscles Matters
During this study, the researchers inspected what was fueling the motion of the soleus muscles and they found that they use very little glycogen – the body’s store of carbohydrates that fuel most muscle movement. So, while most other muscles in the body become fatigued as glycogen is depleted, the soleus muscles can keep going by continually pulling glucose and fats out of the blood.
To do a soleus pushup, you sit with your feet flat on the floor and lift your heel while the front of your foot stays on the floor. As the heel gets as high as it can, you relax the muscle and let the heel return to the floor. The researchers say the purpose is to shorten the calf muscles as the soleus muscles are naturally activated by motor neurons.
The researchers also point out that while a soleus pushup appears to be similar to what happens while you’re walking, it differs significantly. When you walk, the motions the body uses are designed to minimize the amount of energy that gets consumed. But, when you do the soleus pushup, you maximize the energy that the soleus muscles use up.
Groundbreaking Study into Blood Sugar, Weight Loss and Health
Dr. Hamilton says that he considers this research “the most important study” ever done at the Metabolic Innovations lab at the University of Houston. He believes it could help alleviate the broad range of health issues linked to spending too much time sitting down and being inactive – on average Americans spend a whopping ten hours a day sitting down.
Sitting too long, says Dr. Hamilton, increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and dementia. And right now, more than half of every American – and 80 percent of people over age 65 – are suffering from metabolic dysfunction connected with diabetes and pre-diabetes.
How to Incorporate Soleus Pushups into Your Routine
It’s important to note that the people in the Texas study were attached to equipment that helped them learn how to maximize engagement of the muscle –equipment nobody has at home. It’s also not totally clear how long you have to do soleus pushups to get optimal results. For example, the people in the study sat and did their soleus exercises for hours.
If you wish to try the soleus pushup, Dr. Hamilton has a video online that describes his research and explains how to do it. (Find it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaK6TThRMdE) Dr. Hamilton says that soon his lab plans to release more information about how to do this exercise. When they do, I will pass that information on.