An Exercise to Lower Blood Sugar While Sitting

The soleus muscle runs from the knee to behind the calf, connecting to the heel.

Improve your Metabolic Health with the ‘Soleus Push-up’

Imagine being able to greatly lower the blood sugar spike you get from a eating spaghetti dinner or an ice cream cone by sitting on your butt.

Scientists and doctors have long known that “postprandial exercise,” that is exercising about 30 minutes after a meal, acutely moves blood sugar (glucose) into muscle tissue where it’s stored as glycogen. That takes the sugars from the food you ate out of your bloodstream where it can harm your cells and lead to type 2 diabetes over time. Even an after-dinner stroll is considered an exercise to lower blood sugar levels by shuttling glucose into muscle.

Now experiments by a researcher in the Health and Human Performance Lab at the University of Houston suggest you don’t have to huff and puff to get that benefit of better metabolic health. In fact, because exercise makes up just a fraction of our waking hours if at all, his method is more effective.

You’ll Want to Take a Seat for This One

Marc Hamilton, PhD, a UH professor and an expert in muscle physiology and metabolism, has found that activating the soleus muscle in the calf using a certain technique, results in elevated muscle metabolism for hours. Details of the research appear in September 2022 in the journal iScience. Hamilton calls the metabolism-boosting technique the “soleus push-up” but it’s not the kind of exercise you might expect. You perform the “push-up” while sitting. And that’s important because Americans spend on average 10 hours a day sitting down, he says. A sedentary lifestyle is one of many key factors contributing to the epidemic of cardiometabolic diseases and type 2 diabetes in the United States.

woman sitting working at a desk

…Connected to the Heel Bone

The soleus muscle runs from just below the knee in the back of the shin bone and down behind the calf to the heel. It plays a role in walking and running but its greatest task is keeping us from falling forward while standing. It can do that without fatiguing because it’s made up of slow-twitch muscles built for endurance. Also, the soleus doesn’t rely completely on intramuscular glycogen, the stored carbohydrate that most muscles use for fuel. Instead, it uses a mixture of fuels from the blood, namely, glucose and lipoproteins or blood fats.

“What we developed is a way to sustain muscle contraction active for hours, not minutes, and in doing that they were able to use [that] special mixture of fuels,” says Hamilton. The soleus push-up activates the soleus muscle differently than walking or standing does. It results in increased oxidative metabolism, the process by which oxygen burns that blood sugar and fat. What’s more, the soleus pushup can be done for hours without fatigue.

Hamilton says people can lower their blood glucose by about 50% with a single session of soleus muscle contractions. “The magnitude rivals what you would see in hours after exercise or any other type of therapy,” he says. “We don’t know of any therapeutic approach, even the strongest pharmaceuticals, that comes close to raising metabolic rate as much as activating 1% of your body’s weight through sustained soleus contractions.” Hamilton’s research also showed that keeping the soleus muscle activated was effective at doubling the normal rate of fat metabolism, reducing levels of triglycerides in the blood.

feet with one heel up exercise to lower blood sugar

How to Do the Soleus Pushup to Lower Blood Sugar

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your body relaxed.
  • Keeping the front of your foot on the floor, raise your heels to their full range of motion.
  • Release to allow your heels to return to the floor. And repeat.

Simple, right? Well, before you start tapping your heels on the floor at your work desk, there’s a caveat. “It’s a very specific movement that right now requires wearable technology and experience to optimize the health benefits,” says Hamilton.

            The researchers are working on guides to teach the proper technique without the use of specialized equipment. Meanwhile, Hamilton hopes his research will call attention to the overlooked potential of targeting small highly oxidative muscle mass with contractions as a method for improving blood sugar control in a sedentary population.

            “It’s much like we’ve discovered a new organ,” Hamilton says. “Even though it’s there, we’ve seen it, we didn’t know how to use it correctly to optimize our health.”
Watch Discovery Unlocks Potential of “Special Muscle” on YouTube.

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