Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Huge amounts of money have been spent decreasing its burden, whether it be through treatments or interventions to reduce the risk of a heart attack for those who already have heart disease, or through prevention efforts – medications, physical activity programs and dietary advice.
Despite all this, there’s a challenge in quickly and simply identifying who is at risk of heart disease.
Some doctors rely on self-reported lifestyle and diet measures, like how much fatty food you eat and whether you play a sport. But those measures aren’t always accurate, thanks to our tendency to overestimate the good things we do and forget about that cheeseburger.
The other alternative is expensive, lengthy medical imaging or physical testing to work out the health of the heart. What if there was a simpler way?
In this study, US researchers were able to access the medical records of firefighters from across Indiana between 2000 and 2010. All of the firefighters underwent physical exams when they started their job and throughout their career, which included an assessment of how many push-ups they could do.
The researchers sorted them into groups based on how many they could do, then looked at the history of cardiovascular incidents (things like heart failure, sudden cardiac death) in that same group.
That meant they could link together the push-up ability with any cardiac events to see whether doing more or less push-ups meant you were more or less likely to have a heart problem. They looked at more than a thousand firefighters.
The study found that high push-up capacity was associated with lower levels of a range of things – blood pressure, cholesterol level and smoking, and unsurprisingly was also linked with general cardiovascular fitness.
Being able to do more than 40 push-ups identifies people with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Those firefighters who could do 40 or more push-ups had a 96 per cent reduction in heart events compared to those who could do fewer than 10 push-ups. Generally, being able to do at least 11 push-ups meant you were at reduced risk.
The authors speculate that push-ups could be a no-cost, simple indicator of general heart health and risk of heart problems – at least among the study population, which was male and American. How many push-ups can you do?