Push-ups Can Predict Heart Attack Risk
Running on a treadmill is a well-established way for doctors to determine your risk of having a heart attack. It goes by several names including an exercise stress test, exercise electrocardiogram, treadmill test, graded exercise test or stress EKG.
Doctors use the test to see how your heart responds to being pushed. You're instructed to run on a treadmill with the test increasing in difficulty as you go. Monitors are used to see how much your heart can manage, before an abnormal rhythm is detected or blood flow to your heart muscle drops.
There now may be a better, faster and cheaper way to test for cardiovascular risk. How many push-ups can you do?
In a 10-year study, researchers looked at the health data from 1,104 male firefighters. The mean age was about 40 years old and their mean body mass index was 28.7.
At the start of the study, participants had standardized measurements taken for height, weight, blood pressure and resting heart rate. They answered several lifestyle questions, had a treadmill exercise tolerance test and a push-up capacity test.
Over the 10 year study, there were 37 "cardiovascular disease related outcomes." In other words, 37 cases of severe heart-related problems like a heart attack or stroke. However, the problems were primarily concentrated in people who were unable to complete at least 10 push-ups.
The participants that could complete 11 to 20 push-ups saw their risk decline by 64%. Ones that could do 40 or more push-ups, saw an incredible 96% reduction in risk for heart-related problems. Normal factors including age and body mass index were good predictors of risk, but the study authors found the ability (or inability) to complete push-ups was the strongest indicator of risk.
To properly measure your push-ups, you will need a metronome. You can download several versions for free on smart-phones, then set it to 80 beats per minute. Once you begin, count the total number of push-ups you complete.
Stop counting once any of these conditions are met.
1. You missed three or more beats of the metronome.
2. You successfully completed 80 push-ups.
3. You become exhausted or experience dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain or shortness of breath.
Take the standard push-up position laying face down, toes flexed, with the palms of your hand on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The heel of your hands should be in line with your lower chest.
Once you’re in position, start doing push-ups. Retract and depress the scapula (shoulder blades) and contract your core. Exhale pressing the body up until the arms are extended, stopping just short of locking the elbows. Hold that position and inhale. Then lower the body until the elbows form a 90-degree angle and the upper arms are parallel to the ground.
The most common way people cheat is by lifting the hips too high or letting them drop too low. Don't roll or externally rotate the shoulders. Avoid locking the elbows. Choose a spot directly in front of your eyes on the ground and stare at it, to avoid lifting your head.
If you're able to complete 40 or more push-ups, you're probably in reasonably good condition and have little to worry about. But if you're struggling and can't finish 10, it may be time to give your doctor a call for a checkup.
There are several limitations to this study. The most obvious is that it only included men. Men tend to have greater upper body strength than women, so the number of push-ups that were appropriate for a man could be very different for a woman. The study also needs to be expanded to include people who are less active.
Consider this test a quick glimpse into your health status. It demonstrates how important physical fitness is to overall health and how risky avoiding exercise can be. How many push-ups can you do?
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