Men who can’t do 10 push-ups at greater risk of heart disease, study says

'Push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,' says Justin Yang of Harvard University

Middle-aged men who can’t complete 10 push-ups are at significantly higher risk of heart attacks or strokes, a study has found.

Being able to do more than 40 push-ups was associated with a 97 per cent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years, the Harvard University team said.

But being able to complete between 21 and 30 push-ups meant men had around a quarter of the risk of conditions like coronary artery disease or heart failure, compared to someone who couldn’t manage 10.

“Participants able to perform 11 or more push-ups at baseline had significantly reduced risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease events,” the study authors wrote in journal JAMA Network Open.

Push-ups were an even better predictor of future heart health than established fitness benchmarks like running and were simple to complete, making them ideal for short periods of exercise.

“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,” said study author Justin Yang, from Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

“Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests [where subjects run while their breathing is measured].”

The study, published on Friday, used data from fitness tests of more than 1,000 firemen in the US state of Indiana who enrolled between 2000 and 2007 and used medical records to test cardiovascular disease diagnoses over the next decade.

The men had an average age of 39.6 years, but this ranged from 21 to 66 years old. While the group had an average body-mass index (BMI) of 28.7 – in the overweight range – they were all active.

Even adjusting for the different ages and weights of participants, the group found a link between doing more push-ups and longer-term health.

However because of the low number of heart conditions, 37 over the trial period, and low numbers in some of the push-up groups they were less confident in their findings that being able to do 11 to 20 push-ups reduced heart disease risk by 64 per cent.

This is the first study to show push-ups can be an effective test for future cardiovascular disease risk, but independent experts warned its findings would need to be proven in other groups – this includes groups who are less active and in women.

“This study shows that fitter firefighters have less chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the next decade,” Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said.

“The narrowing of our arteries with fatty substances, which can eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes, starts early, often in our 20s and 30s. Keeping fit, no matter your age, is an important way to reduce your risk.”