Can Your Number of Push-Ups Predict Your Risk of Heart Disease?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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How many push-ups can you do? Does it really matter? A new study shows that it might.

What Is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes many diseases of the heart and coronary vessels. When you see the term “cardiovascular disease,” or “CVD,” however, it typically means heart disease caused by a build-up of plaque on the walls (termed atherosclerosis) inside an artery.  If plaque completely obstructs an artery or breaks off, travels through the artery, and blocks it further down the line (termed an embolus), stopping blood flow, the result is either a heart attack or stroke, depending on the artery. At this point, we’re dealing with a life-threatening major cardiovascular event.

40+ Push-Ups May Test Cardiac Risk

The new study set out to investigate the association between push-ups on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Specifically, is there a baseline number of push-ups that are associated with a lower risk of CVD? The study consisted of 1,562 male firefighters. The men were placed into one of five groups based on the number of push-ups they were able to complete at their baseline examination and were then followed for about a decade.

The results? Those who were able to perform 40+ consecutive (each no further apart than three beats on a metronome) push-ups at their baseline measurement were 96% less likely to develop CVD when compared to those in the <10 push-ups group. The good news is that even those who could do 11+ push-ups experienced a significant reduction in CVD risks. In other words, the more push-ups you can do, the lower your CVD risk.

Other Forms of Exercise That Benefit Heart Health

If push-ups aren’t your thing, there’s no need to worry. There are many forms of exercise that are directly associated with heart health. The American Heart Association, for example, recommends either a combination of aerobic activity (e.g., running, biking, taking an aerobics class, etc.) and weight training five days a week, 30 minutes a day or at least a moderate-intensity aerobic activity alone but for the same amount of time.

The good news is that one study suggests that even those who only exercise two to three days a week can experience some cardiovascular benefits (e.g., less stiffness in the carotid arteries, decreased pressure in the ventricles and peripheral arteries, and, therefore, less stress on the heart). Even more good news, it’s never too late to start exercising and obtaining some of those heart-health benefits.

Exercise Is Good for More than Just the Heart

Exercise is good for the whole body, not just the heart. Outside of the obvious benefits, such as weight loss and maintenance and keeping our brain sharp, exercise has many other less-obvious benefits you might not know about:

The upshot? Push-ups here are clearly a proxy for physical fitness? Maybe for natural testosterone levels? Who knows. However, you may want to drop and give me 20 to check your cardiovascular risk. That may or may not work, but it feels gratifying anyway.

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Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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