Was the last time you did pushups in gym class? If so, it could be time to lie down and try out a few reps, because this simple exercise means more about your health than you think.
According to a new study published in JAMA Network Open, pushup capacity is inversely associated with future cardiovascular disease (CVD) incidents — meaning the more pushups you can do, the less likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers found that CVD risk was 96 percent lower in men who were able to do 40 or more pushups during a physical test compared to men who could do 10 or fewer.
The retrospective longitudinal study followed 1,104 male firefighters over a 10-year period between 2000 and 2010. The men underwent baseline and periodic physical examinations that included timed pushups and cardiorespiratory endurance (such as a treadmill test).
“Those completing the least pushups at baseline went on to have the highest rates of new CVD diagnoses; while those competing the most pushups at baseline enjoyed the lowest subsequent rates of CVD,” Dr. Stefanos N. Kales, MPH, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, and one of the study’s authors, told Healthline.
Surprisingly, he said, pushup capacity also was a better predictor of CVD outcomes than submaximal treadmill tests, a more commonly used test.
How these findings can help improve your health
The study suggests several practical takeaways both in the healthcare setting and beyond.
First, a pushup test is simple and quick to perform. The men in the study were required to simply perform pushups set to a metronome beat until they hit 80 push-ups, missed three metronome beats, or stopped because of exhaustion.
So, if the test is an accurate predictor of CVD outcomes, it would be a cheap and easy way for doctors to assess a patient’s health — providing a “snapshot” of sorts.
It could also be an easy way for an individual to get a sense of their own health and CVD risk.
Doctors tend to rely more heavily on measurements (think weight, height, and BMI) and serum biomarkers, such as blood lipids and cholesterol when assessing cardiovascular health.
Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) tests, which are actual dynamic physical tests of the human body, like a treadmill test, “have largely been neglected by clinicians,” wrote the authors.
In 2016, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement concluding that “CRF should be measured in clinical practice… Indeed, decades of research have produced unequivocal evidence that CRF provides independent and additive morbidity and mortality data that when added to traditional risk factors significantly improves CVD risk prediction.”
The problem with typical CRF testing is that it’s typically expensive, time-consuming, and requires special personnel. Kales argues that pushup capacity solves these problems: It can be done in a doctor’s office at no cost, takes only a few minutes, and doesn’t require additional personnel.