• Bryce Boratko

Push-Ups and Heart Disease

Who would have thought that something as simple as a push-up could be so valuable...


Harvard published a study back around the beginning of the year based off of 10 years of data that compared push-up capacity with the risk of cardiovascular disease. Though the focus group of the study was occupationally active, middle-aged men, it’s hard to think how the results wouldn’t also apply to other populations, genders, and ages as well, to varying degrees.


Being in the fitness industry, as coaches/ trainers we constantly discuss the importance of creating a healthy lifestyle, one where you’re mindful of sleep quality/ duration, stress management, exercise, and a generally healthy diet. Many don’t even consider one, or more of the above four priorities within their own lifestyle which can have cumulative, detrimental effects in the longer term. Many hear the term cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, and really don’t know much about it. They may think it just means you might have a heart attack, and since they feel pretty good so far, and don’t have any acute heart issues, why worry, right? The big problem here though is the idea; “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The human body, like everything else needs maintenance. If something “breaks” it’s often a result of the lack of maintenance (diet, exercise, etc.) So, if you’re lucky enough to be alive after the “break” (heart attack, stroke, etc.) that’s a pretty big wake up call. It would have been a LOT easier, more convenient, and much less costly just to do some weekly maintenance than to now have to deal with a possibly severe medical condition when you were least expecting it. After all, you can’t just trade yourself in when things don’t work quite as well as they used to.


As the leading cause of death, globally, what I find so intriguing about this study is that they now consider push-up capacity as possibly a better test of fitness for CVD risk than even the exercise tolerance test of aerobic capacity with a treadmill. I like this because in order to complete that many push-ups with proficiency, through a full range of motion, one needs to not only be relatively strong, but also have a relative aerobic capacity to get through that volume. Just because you can bench press 400lbs doesn’t mean that you’re fit. Similarly, just because you can run longer distances between the 5K-½ marathon at a slow to moderate pace also doesn’t mean you’re exceptionally conditioned either. Push-up capacity used as a test is really kind of that middle ground that assesses relative strength, stamina, muscular endurance & a touch on aerobic capacity. I love that this is really the most simple way to get a measurable result: number of legitimate push-ups. ANYONE can test this ANYTIME! You don’t need a doctor, or coach present, you don’t need equipment. RIGHT NOW, you can see to what extent you’re at risk for;

-Heart attack

-Stroke

-Coronary artery disease

-Aortic aneurysms

-Heart failure

-Hypertension

-Etc. (these are just some of the conditions)

As the study points out, 40 is the number that really stands out. Males able to complete a generally proficient set of 40+ push-ups were at a 96% decreased risk of developing CVD. Even if you couldn’t complete 40, the ability to complete a set of 21-30, or more, when compared with the group who was only able to complete 0-10 had a statistical significance of an inverse relationship of push-up capacity to CVD outcome risk. Once again, this study only included middle-aged, generally active males, and there are a lot of things that wouldn’t necessarily apply to other populations. However, in just a quick look, the main variation would really just be push-up volume and technique standardization. I’d make an assumption on training experience alone, that the magical number for middle-aged females would likely be in the range of 25-30.


Test this out using LEGITIMATE, full range of motion, push-ups. See how fit you really are. If you can get at least 10, then you’re already doing pretty good. If you can’t get 10 legitimate push ups, you may want to start thinking about making some healthier choices, and exercising if you don’t want to rely on pills just to keep you alive. Based on your results, most will probably be wondering how they can improve. The obvious answer would be to do push-ups more often, but that alone likely won’t get you where you need to be, especially if you’re in the 0-10 spectrum. Making healthier food choices, prioritizing sleep quality/ duration, strength training and conditioning, and stress management all play a vital role in heart health.

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