Doing this many push-ups reduces heart disease risk by 96%

About 250,000 Americans die a year as a direct result of sedentary lifestyles.

The larger share of these deaths is more directly attributable to the development of cardiovascular diseases.  Many Americans lack either the time or the funds to commit to a gym membership which means fighting chronic inactivity begins with affordable ways to maintain physical fitness.

Thankfully, a study published in the JAMA Network Open recently became the first to identify push-up capacity as a preemptive correlate of poor heart health.

More discreetly,  the researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health posited that middle-aged men who can complete 40 push-ups or more in a single try evidence a reduced risk of developing deadly cardiovascular diseases compared to individuals who can complete no more than ten push-ups in a single try.

“Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting. Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests,” explained the study’s first author Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

 Push-up capacity is a no-cost, fast, and simple measure that may be a useful and objective clinical assessment tool for evaluating functional capacity and cardiovascular disease risk

There are several aspects of physical fitness that can be instructive for subsequent heart disease outcomes.   

Calisthenics and resistance training are great ways to decrease blood pressure and stress put upon the heart. When performed correctly habitually doing push-ups can achieve the aforementioned benefits and even provide a dependable measure of an individual’s longevity.

“Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Robust evidence indicates an association of increased physical fitness with a lower risk of CVD events and improved longevity; however, few have studied simple, low-cost measures of functional status,” the authors wrote in the report.

In order to determine the most effective and affordable methods of maintaining fitness, the researchers began by reviewing health data from 1,104 male firefighters recorded annually between the years of 2000 and 2010. The average age of  the participants was 39 and the median body-mass-index was about 28.7

Each participant was instructed to perform as many push-ups as they could in a single-try. These trials persisted over the course of ten years. 

By the end of the study period, 37 participants developed a heart disease related condition — 36 of these firefighters were not able to complete 40 push-ups in the initial trial. Although the researchers additionally tested treadmill endurance no discernible association was established between these demonstrations and the development of cardiovascular diseases.  

More trials need to be done to determine if these outcomes could be replicated in women, younger men, and subjects who are less active than the firefighters involved in the study.

To perform a proper push-up make sure that your hands are shoulder-width apart or wider, your elbows are at a 45-degree angle as you bend towards the ground, and that your fingers are spread, with your middle finger pointing towards 12 o’clock.

“Push-up capacity is a no-cost, fast, and simple measure that may be a useful and objective clinical assessment tool for evaluating functional capacity and cardiovascular disease risk.”

The new study was co-authored by Justin Yang, MD, Costas A. Christophi, PhD and  Andrea Farioli, MD, PhD and can be read in full in the JAMA Network Open.