‘Special’ Muscle Can Promote Glucose and Fat Burning to Fuel Metabolism While Sitting for Hours

Overview: The groundbreaking “soleus push-up” effectively increases muscle metabolism for hours, even while sitting.

Source: University of Houston

From the same mind whose research has spawned the idea that “sitting too much isn’t the same as exercising too little,” comes a groundbreaking discovery that will turn a sedentary lifestyle on its head: the soleus muscle in the calf, even though only 1% of your body weight , can do great things to improve metabolic health in the rest of your body, if activated correctly.

And Marc Hamilton, professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston, has discovered such an approach to optimal activation — he’s pioneering the “soleus pushup” (SPU) that effectively boosts muscle metabolism for hours, even while sitting. The soleus, one of the 600 muscles in the human body, is a rear leg muscle that runs from just below the knee to the heel.

Published in the magazine iScience, Hamilton’s research suggests that the soleus push-up’s ability to maintain increased oxidative metabolism to improve blood glucose control is more effective than any of the popular methods currently touted as a solution, including exercise, weight loss, and intermittent fasting. Oxidative metabolism is the process of using oxygen to burn metabolites such as blood glucose or fats, but it depends in part on the muscle’s immediate energy needs when it is working.

“We never dreamed that this muscle has this kind of capacity. It’s been in our bodies all along, but until now no one has researched how to use it to optimize our health,” Hamilton says. “When activated correctly, the soleus muscle ramps up local oxidative metabolism for hours, not just minutes, and does so by using a different fuel mixture.”

Muscle biopsies revealed that there was a minimal contribution of glycogen to feeding the soleus. Instead of breaking down glycogen, the soleus can use other types of fuels, such as blood glucose and fats. Glycogen is normally the predominant type of carbohydrate that stimulates muscle exercise.

“The soleus’s less-than-normal reliance on glycogen helps it work effortlessly for hours without fatigue during this type of muscle activity, as there is a definite limit to muscle endurance caused by glycogen depletion,” he added. “To our knowledge, this is the first concerted effort to develop a specialized type of contractile activity aimed at optimizing human metabolic processes.”

When the SPU was tested, the whole-body effects on blood chemistry were a 52% improvement in blood glucose (sugar) excursion and a 60% reduction in insulin requirements for three hours after taking a glucose drink.

The new approach to keep soleus muscle metabolism buzzing is also effective at doubling the normal rate of fat metabolism during the fasting period between meals, reducing blood fat (VLDL triglyceride) levels.

The soleus push up

Building on years of research, Hamilton and his colleagues developed the soleus pushup, which activates the soleus muscle differently than when standing or walking. The SPU targets the soleus to increase oxygen consumption – more than is possible with these other types of soleus activities, while also resisting fatigue.

Marc Hamilton, professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston, is pioneering the “soleus push-up” for the calf muscle that is only 1% of your body weight, but can improve metabolic health in the rest of your body if activated correctly . Credit: University of Houston

So, how do you perform a soleus push-up?

Basically, sitting with the feet flat on the floor and the muscles relaxed, the heel rises while the front of the foot stays put. When the heel reaches the top of its range of motion, the foot is passively released to come back down. The goal is to simultaneously shorten the calf muscle while activating the soleus naturally by its motor neurons.

While the SPU movement resembles walking (although it’s performed sitting), it’s the exact opposite, according to the researchers. When walking, the body is designed to minimize the amount of energy expended, due to the way the soleus moves. Hamilton’s method turns that on its head and ensures that the soleus consumes as much energy as possible for as long as possible.

“The soleus push-up looks simple from the outside, but sometimes what we see with the naked eye isn’t the whole story. It’s a very specific movement that currently requires wearable technology and experience to maximize its health benefits,” said Hamilton.

Additional publications are in the works aimed at instructing people to properly learn this unique movement, but without the sophisticated lab equipment used in this latest study.

Credit: University of Houston

The researchers are quick to point out that this is not a new fitness tip or diet of the month. It is a powerful physiological movement that takes advantage of the unique features of the soleus.

Potential first step towards a breakthrough in healthcare

Calling it the “most important study” ever completed in his Metabolic Innovations lab at UH, Hamilton said the discovery could provide a solution to a variety of health problems caused by living hours a day with a muscle metabolism that is too low. , caused by inactivity . The average American sits about 10 hours a day.

Regardless of a person’s level of physical activity, sitting too much has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and more. More than half of all American adults and 80% of those over 65 have metabolic problems caused by diabetes or prediabetes.

A low metabolism while sitting is especially troublesome for people at high risk for age-related metabolic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Hamilton said that inactive muscles require less energy than most people seem to understand, saying it is “one of the most fundamental, yet overlooked problems” leading the way to discovering metabolic solutions to help with the prevention of certain age-related chronic diseases.

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“All 600 muscles together normally contribute only about 15% to the whole body’s oxidative metabolism in the three hours after carbohydrate intake. Despite the fact that the soleus is only 1% of body weight, it is able to increase metabolism during SPU contractions to easily double, sometimes even triple, whole-body carbohydrate oxidation.

We are not aware of any existing or promising drugs that come close to increasing and supporting whole-body oxidative metabolism of this magnitude.”

About this news about metabolism research

Author: Laurie Fickman
Source: University of Houston
Contact: Laurie Fickman – University of Houston
Image: The image is attributed to the University of Houston

Original research: Open access.
“A potent physiological method to increase and support soleus oxidative metabolism improves glucose and lipid regulation” by Marc Hamilton et al. iScience


A powerful physiological method to increase and support soleus oxidative metabolism improves glucose and lipid regulation

Slow oxidative muscles, especially the soleus, are naturally well equipped with the molecular machinery for regulating blood-borne substrates.

However, the entire human musculature is responsible for only ∼15% of the body’s oxidative metabolism of glucose in resting energy expenditure, despite being the body’s largest lean tissue mass.

We found that the human soleus muscle can increase local oxidative metabolism to a high level for hours without fatigue, during a kind of soleus-dominant activity while sitting, even in unfit volunteers. Muscle biopsies revealed minimal glycogen utilization.

Increasing the otherwise negligible local energy expenditure with isolated contractions improved the systemic homeostasis of large magnitude VLDL triglyceride and glucose, e.g., 52% less postprandial glucose excursion (∼50 mg/dL less between 1 and 2 h) by 60 % less hyperinsulinemia .

Targeting small oxidative muscle mass (∼1% body mass) with local contractile activity is a powerful method to enhance systemic metabolic regulation while prolonging the benefits of oxidative metabolism.

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