Did you know that muscle in your calf may be one of the biggest secrets to keeping you healthy for a lifetime?
Dr. James Levine is the director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. He has been studying the adverse effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles for years and has summed up his findings in this mantra.
—Sitting is the new smoking.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Dr. James Levine
It is true whether young or old, people are staying home a lot more, or staying in their offices for longer hours – sitting. But why is sitting so bad for you?
In the back part of the lower leg, there are two very powerful muscles. Gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius is a superficial muscle with 2 heads, which runs from knee to the heel. Gastrocnemius means “stomach of leg”-When you see a runner’s calf, you will notice its engorged stomach like shape. The soleus lies below the gastrocnemius and it also runs from knee to heel. It is a flat thick muscle and it means “sandal” in Latin.
Even though some anatomists consider these 2 major muscles in the calf to be one muscle, they each have different functions. The gastrocnemius is involved in more “fast” movement like running and jumping, where soleus is responsible for keeping us upright in standing position. (Curious thing is that some animals don’t have a soleus… And it is vestigial in the horse.)
Another important function of soleus is that it works like a pump to push the blood back up to the heart. 70% of our blood falls into our lower body because of gravity, and it needs to be brought back up. Because of its function, some consider the soleus as “The second heart”. It is proven that when we sit, within the first half hour, our blood flows slows down by 50%. 30 years ago, Dr. Yoichi Ishikawa, a surgeon from Japan was treating a patient and when the IV fluid was not dropping down easily, he noticed the patient’s lower legs were ice cold. When he massaged the patients calves, the fluid started to go down. He was amazed and thought by releasing the calves, you can increase the blood flow and tackle a lot of medical challenges. Since then, he left his field and dedicated his life to teaching calf therapy.
Economy class syndrome got its name from people sitting for long periods of time in their cabin of their aircraft. Regardless of the cabin class, immobility for long periods raises the risk of clot formation. Also change in oxygen pressure in the cabin cause lower oxygen pressure and dehydration. Your calf muscles have to have good oxygen level and hydration in order to work properly. This is why you should drink a lot of water when you are traveling on the airplane (not coffee, juice, beer or wine… water is the only source of hydration!) . Walk around and stretch your lower legs.
Economy class syndrome is not an airplane specific epidemic. I have heard of a young lady who passed away because of her work, where she had to sit all day. Right after the earthquake in Kumamoto Japan this April, many people decided to stay in their cars instead of their home because they were afraid of the after shock. They thought staying inside their cars was safer…. Sadly, the consequences were deadly for them. At least 8 people were killed from economy class syndrome.
When you know you will be in a situation where you have to be seated over periods of time, do the following.
- Keep drinking water
- Massage your lower legs
- Exercise your ankle periodically. The exercise should include dolce flexion and planter flexion of the ankle, and extension and flexion of the knees. Remember, your soleus muscle can stretch only when you bend your knees and dolce flex your ankle.
I created a short Yoga Tune Up®Sequence that you can practice while you are sitting. Whenever you can get up and walk around, work your muscle so the calf can properly send blood supply back to your heart. You can march up and down the aisle – lift up your knees as high as you can – with a big grin on your face!
Remember, keeping your calf supple, hydrated and happy is the key to youth and long term health.
Don’t wait too long….Roll on the YTU therapy ball!