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Doing more push-ups can help men avoid heart disease

Active, middle-aged men able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, new research has found.

A study undertaken by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in JAMA Network Open has found that males who were able to complete more than 40 push-ups, compared with those who were able to do less than 10 push-ups during the baseline exam, were less at risk of CVD outcomes, including diagnoses of coronary artery disease and major events such as heart failure.

“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,” said first author Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan.

The researchers analysed health data from 1,104 active male firefighters collected from 2000 to 2010. Their mean age was 39.6 and mean body mass index (BMI) was 28.7. Participants’ push-up capacity and submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance were measured at the start of the study, and each man subsequently completed annual physical examinations and health and medical questionnaires.

This is the “first known study to report an association between push-up capacity and subsequent cardiovascular disease outcomes”, the researchers said.

During the 10-year study period, 37 CVD-related outcomes were reported. All but one occurred in men who completed 40 or fewer push-ups during the baseline exam. The researchers calculated that men able to do more than 40 push-ups had a 96 per cent reduced risk of CVD events compared with those who were able to do less than 10 push-ups.

“Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease events than was aerobic capacity as estimated by a submaximal treadmill exercise test,” the researchers said.

“Because the study population consisted of middle-aged, occupationally active men, the results may not be generalisable to women or to men of other ages or who are less active.”

“This study emphasises the importance of physical fitness on health and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters,” said senior author Stefanos Kales.