A carbohydrate-based diet, with an unhealthy proportion of ultra-processed foods in the meals, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, has made diabetes a global concern. Freedom from diabetes is the need of the hour, and one sure way to manage the condition is through regular exercise and leading a physically active life. However, many have jobs that keep them tied to their desks, and movement is a luxury. Enter soleus pushups, which are being touted as a great exercise to manage blood sugar levels after a meal. But is working out the soleus muscle, present in the calves, enough to keep diabetes in check?
“For people with diabetes, apart from medications, we also emphasize exercise along with diet,” says Dr Harshitha Boyareddigari, consultant, endocrinology, Manipal Hospitals, Bangalore. “Exercise reduces insulin resistance and helps with blood sugar control. People with diabetes are also prone to cardiovascular conditions, and exercise reduces their risk. It also improves cholesterol levels, aiding in overall diabetes management.”
However, many people spend several hours a day with no physical activity. Can soleus pushups, which can be conveniently done while being seated, be their savior? A major research done by the University of Houston published in the journal iScience concluded that soleus pushups involve a specific and isolated plantar flexion (movement of the feet with toes pointing downwards) of the feet. The exercise increases the demand and utilization of energy for long durations without getting fatigued. It offers many benefits when it comes to metabolic processes, such as reduced blood sugar levels and hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels in the blood).
How to do soleus pushups
The soleus is the smaller of the two muscles that make up the calf. “Soleus pushups are done in a seated position on a chair,” says Ashish Paurana, a Bangalore-based type 2 diabetes and weight loss specialist. “Place the feet on the floor [at approximately 90 degrees]. Then raise the heels to the maximum range of motion while the front part of the foot is still in contact with the ground. Once you feel a stretch in the soleus region of the calf muscle, bring it back to the ground and repeat the process,” he explains.
Soleus pushups: How do they reduce blood sugar levels?
A specialty of the soleus muscle is its choice of energy source when worked or engaged. It can increase the local oxidative metabolism (a cellular process that uses oxygen to break down food molecules for energy) within the muscle for hours.
“While doing soleus pushups, the soleus muscle utilizes blood glucose as a fuel and minimal glycogen,” says Paurana. “This makes soleus pushups an ideal postprandial [after a meal] exercise that reduces blood sugar levels after a meal.”
Besides blood sugar, the soleus muscle also utilizes VLDL (very low-density lipids) from the bloodstream.
“The soleus muscle has slow twitch muscle fibers that do not fatigue easily,” says Dr Sidharth Unnithan, a sports medicine specialist from Kochi. “So, doing soleus pushups continuously improves metabolic control by reducing the glucose levels in the blood and reducing hyperinsulinemia.”
Soleus pushups as a workout
Although the University of Houston study was done for a postprandial period of three hours, doing the pushups continuously started showing a reduction in blood glucose levels, even within the first 30 minutes. The glucose level in people who did soleus pushups remained significantly lower compared to those who were sedentary throughout the three hours after the meal. It also reduced the level of lipids (VLDL triglycerides) in the blood.
Soleus pushups are ideal for people who cannot walk after a meal. “Doing soleus pushups for three to four hours can be practically impossible for many,” adds Paurana. “However, you can initially begin by doing four sets of 50 repetitions after the main meals. This will help reduce the blood glucose levels. You can then gradually increase it to six to eight sets.”
Benefits and drawbacks
“Being a very simple exercise that doesn’t involve complex techniques, even people who face difficulty doing other forms of exercise for various reasons can do soleus pushups,” says Dr Unnithan.
Apart from regulating some of the metabolic processes, the plantar flexion of the foot is beneficial for the knee joint, heel and ankle. It also strengthens the bones and muscles of the lower limb.
“However, it would be difficult for people with conditions like deep vein thrombosis to do it. And it is not recommended for those who have had ankle injuries or surgeries to do soleus pushups immediately,” adds Dr Unnithan.
Experts emphasize that this exercise should only be an add-on to your other workouts or fitness routines for managing diabetes. Soleus pushups should not be the only means of lowering your blood sugar levels.
“Reversing diabetes is a long-term goal. Insulin resistance drops drastically, and blood sugar levels are reduced if you lose seven to 10 percent of your body weight through diet and exercise. That forms a keystone for diabetes reversal,” says Dr Boyareddigari.
- Exercise plays a key role in diabetes management. However, many find it difficult to make time for a workout and end up in a sedentary lifestyle spiral.
- Soleus pushups, which work the soleus muscle in the calves, can bring down blood sugar levels and reduce hyperinsulinemia when done continuously. This is because the soleus muscle utilizes blood glucose and certain lipids as fuel instead of glycogen.
- The advantage of soleus pushups is that you can do them while being seated, say on your workstation or while watching TV.
- Experts, however, recommend not to solely depend on soleus pushups and suggest adding them as a part of a workout routine to manage blood sugar levels and become fit.