How many push-ups can you do? Does it matter?

The number of consecutive pushups a man can do may have an association with his heart disease risk.

Researchers sought to determine if being able to complete a certain number of pushups in a row is associated with a lessened cardiovascular disease risk. They chose pushup capacity because it is “an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” the study says.

That’s according to recent research published in JAMA Network Open.

More than 1,100 male firefighters with an average age of 40 at the start of the study were tracked for 10 years. The men had an average body mass index of 28.7, which is considered overweight. Each man’s pushup capacity was measured at the start of the study, and they underwent physicals and answered a health questionnaire each year. Over the course of the 10-year study, 37 of the men experienced heart problems.

The researchers divided the 1,100 men into five groups based on their pushup capacity in order to determine if that capacity painted a picture of the men’s likelihood of facing heart problems. The results? After considering BMI and age, the participants who were able to do 40 pushups at the start of the study were at a 96 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease incident when compared to those who were only able to do 10 pushups or less. Study authors say more work needs to be done before these findings can be applied to other groups beyond men, like women and the elderly.

The researchers say the study serves as a reiteration of the benefit of clinicians discussing activity levels with patients.

“There is no doubt that exercise is better than being a couch potato,” says Dr. Victor Marinescu, a cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group. “I think being able to do 40 pushups indicates a general level of fitness (or lack thereof) in the rested population. It’s been an age-old question for physicians, and cardiologists in particular: how much exercise is useful, and does it become harmful at some point? This is particularly true for marathon runners.”

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both) each week, spread throughout the week.

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