The Power of Push-ups

Forty push-ups predicts vastly lower risk of cardiovascular disease

Why would this be?

A brand new study showed that active adult men who could perform 40 or more push-ups without stopping had a 96 percent (!) lower risk of new cardiovascular events over a 10-year follow-up period compared to active adult men who could perform only 10 or fewer push-ups. This study, just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, involved 1,104 male fire fighters from Indiana with an average age of 40 years (maximum age 66).

In addition to nearly eliminating their 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease, the 40 push-up guys had other healthy attributes. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure, blood lipids (total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides), blood glucose, and oxygen processing ability were all correlated in a healthy direction with increasing push-up ability. These findings suggest that fire fighters who could pound out 40 or more push-ups had more going for them besides excellent upper body strength. Better blood chemistry suggests that these men embraced the healthy lifestyle choice of Eat Better. Given the nature of their helping occupation, these fire fighters probably also adopted the healthy lifestyle choice of Live with Purpose. The 40 push-ups men probably nurtured their physical, mental, and spiritual health through the healthy lifestyle choices of Keep Moving, Eat Better, and Live with Purpose—and maybe others.

Reading this article promoted me see how many push-ups I could do without stopping. The result: 21 push-ups. According to this research, how would my risk of cardiovascular disease compare that of fire fighters who could muster only 10 or fewer push-ups? I estimate about 74 percent lower. That sounds fine to me! (Note: I’m older than all the firefighters in the study; thus, the results might not apply to me.)

For the fire fighters as a group, the risk of cardiovascular disease generally declined across the five categories of push-ups. Assigning a risk of 100 to the lowest category (0-10), the relative risk of cardiovascular disease for the other push-up categories declined as follows: 36 (11-20), 16 (21-30), 25 (31-40), and 4 (40 or more). This pattern suggests a cause-and-effect relationship between push-ups (or some closely related factors) and risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk of a cardiovascular event declined by a whopping 64 points from the lowest category (0-10 push-ups) to the second category (11-20 push-ups). Over 10 years, only one cardiovascular event occurred among the 155 men who could do at least 40 push-ups!

Two points: You don’t have to do 40 push-ups to realize cardiovascular benefits. Even better, it’s possible for active 40-year-old men to nearly eliminate over 10 years their risk of cardiovascular disease—the biggest cause of death in the US. Wow!

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