People diagnosed with diabetes are going to bless Professor Marc Hamilton who specialises in health and human performance at the University of Houston, Texas. He has come up with a simple exercise that is absolutely doable — the soleus pushup.
Sit on your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Then, raise the heels as high as they go while the front of the foot keeps contact with the floor. Now, lower the heels. Thus, raise and lower the heels 30 times. You can increase the reps over the weeks. And you can keep doing it all day even at your desk.
How does this exercise help? It activates the soleus muscle which is below the calf muscle. And the soleus muscle burns blood glucose and fats. Result: your fat burns, your blood sugar drops. Remember the age-old wisdom of walking after a meal? The reason for that walk is that after you eat, your blood sugar increases and the pancreas secrete insulin. This hormone escorts the glucose from the carbohydrates into the muscle where it is to be used as fuel. As the glucose enters the muscle, its level drops to a normal level in the blood — this is the natural process.
The glucose story
To sum up, the body uses the glucose thus: directly as fuel which helps muscles move and function; some glucose is converted to glycogen to be stored in our liver and skeletal muscles to be used later; and some is converted into fatty acids to be stored as fat in our adipose tissue, simply known as body fat.
However, these natural processes are disrupted and derailed when the body resists the insulin effect. This leaves the glucose hanging in the blood which leads to pre-diabetes and, if not controlled or reversed, to Type 2 diabetes.
Years ago, my doctor told me to lose 5kg because I’d reached the pre-diabetic stage. I did. And it worked! If no lifestyle changes are made, it can cause more fat-gain leading to obesity and, later, to high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney problems.
To prevent this escalation, doctors tell us to watch our diet and walk daily. We are also advised to take a post-meal walk for 30 minutes to help the body lower its blood sugar level.
When we walk, our leg muscles contract and pressurise the blood flow. The stronger blood flow, with the help of insulin, pushes the glucose into the muscle. However, when the body gains excess fat and is not exercised, it needs more and more insulin to transport the glucose into the muscles. The overworked glucose receptors on the muscle become less sensitive and more resistant to the efforts of the insulin. It’s as if the ‘doors’ of the muscle refuse to open to insulin’s insistent knocks!
Studies show that a post-meal walk of 30 minutes within half hour of eating can lower blood sugar 50 times more than being sedentary. That’s why we are asked to walk. Apparently, the good effects of the walk can last 24 to 48 hours depending on our constitution and the intensity of the walk.
A health snack
Yet, not everybody feels like going for a brisk walk after a meal. And this is where Hamilton’s soleus pushup becomes a gamechanger. You don’t need to get up from your chair. Just raise and lower your heels 30 times after a meal. Do it on other occasions too — while working at your desk, watching TV, while in the waiting room or lobby waiting for someone, while commuting, and any time you sit and are able to keep your feet flat on the floor. As it is healthy to keep active, fitness professionals recommend doing the soleus pushups for 270 minutes or 4.5 hours cumulative through the day. It means, even sitting gets a new dynamic dimension! Of course, you can do it while standing too. In Germany, standing soleus pushups are included in the rehabilitation programmes for heart patients. Look on it as a health snack to be crunched on every now and then during the day. Instead of your teeth, your feet do the crunching! Believe me, it feels really good. Earlier, I used to do 30 standing soleus pushups three times a week as part of my training regime. And it felt good.
Walk or pushup?
You might wonder, how similar or different is the soleus pushup from walking? From what I’ve understood, these pushups show double the normal rate of metabolism in the non-eating period between meals as compared to walking. Does that mean we lose fat faster with these pushups? Here, I’d rather wait and watch as it is still a new finding and more research, computations and comparative studies need to be done over a longer span of time to be sure. For, if there’s anything I’ve learnt in my 40 years of fitness experience, it’s that bio-logic does not always follow pure logic!
So, rather than speculate or extrapolate, don’t give up walking regularly as it is a great time-tested habit. Just add on these soleus pushups as there are other important benefits in strengthening the soleus muscle: One, since it assists blood flow to the heart, the more we train it, the more enhanced will be the blood circulation. The heart gets more oxygen, more nutrients and gets stronger. Two, the soleus muscle is specially designed by nature to continuously stabilise the body when we’re standing erect, walking, running or dancing. It ensures that we don’t fall forward. In short, the stronger our soleus, the greater our stability.
Learn to love the sound of your feet walking away from stuff that could make you gain weight or raise your blood sugar level. Some tips:
~ Eat moderately. Divide your plate thus — half plate vegetables, quarter carbohydrates — brown rice, whole wheat or millet, quarter protein — paneer, pulses, tofu, and one bowl of low-fat yoghurt. Millets win over wheat as they are gluten-free, have a lower glycemic index, contain fibre and, for that reason, release blood sugar slowly into the system. They also reduce inflammation in the gut. Eat fruits separately, not with meals. Pick low glycemic index ones: cherries, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, plums, peaches; in dried fruit: apricot and dates. But don’t overdose on these.
~ Reduce stress in your life. Do stretch exercises at any suitable time of the day and progressive relaxation of consciously relaxing each body part from toe to head at bedtime. Silence wins most times! And zone out for five minutes daily to the no-thought land!
~ Quit smoking. Diabetes increases risks of heart disease, eye degeneration, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problem. Smoking further raises the risks, besides affecting breathing and stamina adversely.
~ Quit alcohol too. Or stick to 1 or 2 standard pegs, not more. Eat a protein like roasted channa with it. Alcohol is a carbohydrate, so another carb like potato wafers is a bad idea. Substitute alcohol with unsweetened jamun juice — it regulates our blood sugar level.
And have a wholesome life, dear readers.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme