An experimental physiological study involving a small muscle called the soleus might be a wake-up call for anyone using their sedentary job or lifestyle as an excuse for poor metabolism.
Subjects experienced distinct health benefits—including sustained elevated oxidative metabolism—from doing “soleus pushups” for hours while sitting. The soleus, one of 600 muscles in the human body, runs from just below the knee to the heel and is one of three muscles that make up the calf.
The effectiveness of the exercise, detailed in the study published in iScience in September 2022, has been touted as a potential solution for the rising rates of Type 2 diabetes. About 13 percent of U.S. adults have diabetes, and more than a third meet the criteria for prediabetes. Metabolic dysfunction also increases the risk of dementia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and COVID-19 complications.
The low-effort soleus pushup offers evidence that we don’t need to expend massive amounts of effort or do prolonged training at the gym to improve metabolic health. But critics have said it’s too soon to jump to conclusions based on one study and that perpetually lifting the heels for hours is unrealistic.
Mark Hamilton, co-author of the study and professor of health and human performance at the University of Houston, said in a news release that soleus pushups are more effective at sustaining elevated oxidative metabolism than other methods, such as exercise, weight loss, and intermittent fasting.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The soleus is a skeletal muscle, and that group of muscles is largely responsible for clearance of glucose from the blood.
Dr. Srikanth Nithyanandam, a sports medicine doctor, told The Epoch Times that soleus pushups should be considered only by those who absolutely cannot escape a sedentary lifestyle because of health risks or disability. In those rare situations, they can use a continuous glucose monitor to check for effectiveness.
“I don’t think I would tell my patients to start doing this,” he said. “Can you work and be able to perform a movement? Can you focus on two things? Most sedentary jobs still require a lot of focus.”
More research is needed, Nithyanandam said, in part to explore what might happen if the person were regularly interrupted, and partly to conduct the experiment on subjects with diabetes.
The study used 25 volunteer subjects who were relatively unfit and inactive but represented a range of ages and body mass indexes.
Participants were monitored with a device to ensure they were performing the exercise correctly. Essentially, the heel rises while the front of the foot stays on the ground, and when the heel reaches the top of its range of motion, it moves back down.
Normally, the body is designed to limit the use of the soleus, a fatigue-resistant and slow-contracting muscle that aids in standing. During the pushups, the soleus uses as much energy as possible. Participants did the exercise continuously for three hours.
“The soleus pushup looks simple from the outside, but sometimes what we see with our naked eye isn’t the whole story. It’s a very specific movement that right now requires wearable technology and experience to optimize the health benefits,” Hamilton said.