Here's a fun fact: Statistically, if you don't die in some type of accident before the age of 44, you're probably going to keel over from cardiovascular disease later in life. CVD is actually a whole class of diseases involving your heart and blood vessels, and it kills more people than cancer.
So, how likely are YOU to die of heart-related issues within the next 10 years? Let's find out right now.
A new study has given us an easy way to weigh our odds. I'll break that study down below, but here's the simple test.
Do one set of as many unbroken push-ups as you can with good form (chest to floor every rep). The test is over as soon as you fail to get another full rep, or if you have to take a 2-3 second break to get another rep.
Hit the floor and do it. I'll wait here.
No, I don't care if you're standing in line at Arby's. Do it.
Okay, How Many Did You Get?
If you're male and hit 40 or more push-ups, you're probably NOT going to die of cardiovascular disease within the next decade or so.
If you only got 10 or fewer, well... shit. Make sure your will is in order so your cousin Steve doesn't swoop in after you croak and claim that you told him he could have your Star Wars action figure collection.
You're probably surprised, and maybe a little skeptical, about how a simple push-up test could be used to assess the link between fitness and cardiovascular disease risk. Don't you normally have to get your blood drawn, get hooked up to a bunch of machines, or at the least do some sort of treadmill stress test?
Yes, for a complete picture, but doctors don't normally have you do all those tests until you start having problems. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health were looking for a fast, free test that could be performed anywhere. They decided on push-ups.
They gathered up over 1100 male firefighters (average age around 40) to take part in this 10-year study. They were given the standard treadmill tolerance test (a modified Bruce protocol) and also told to max-out on push-ups.
To test the push-ups, researchers used a metronome set at 80 beats per minute. If the firefighters started to crap out and took more than three beats to do the next rep, the test was over. And of course, if they just collapsed and couldn't do another rep, the test was also over.
In a nutshell, 37 of those men had suffered from a heart disease-related issue in the 10-year follow-up. And here's the kicker: 36 of those same dudes had failed to do at least 40 push-ups.
Researchers noted: "Participants able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a 96% reduction in incident CVD events compared with those completing fewer than 10 push-ups. This study provides further insights into the association of greater fitness, specifically muscular strength, with CVD-related outcomes."
What about the treadmill test? "Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests," said one researcher.
Previous studies have also shown that strength or "muscular fitness" – not just cardio capacity – is an important indicator of heart health. In fancy terms, a higher level of muscular strength has been associated with lower cardiometabolic risk independent of cardiorespiratory fitness.
The study noted that muscular strength has been shown to have an "independent protective effect" for all-cause mortality.
Basically, live stronger to live longer. Just don't get too fat or take up smoking.
What if you scored somewhere between 10 and 40? Well, the researchers didn't get into that much, but it's pretty easy to extrapolate. The closer you can get to 40, the better. The lower your number, the higher your risk factors. So don't freak out too much if you only hit 35 or so.
How to Use This Info
It's easy: drop and give me 40! This simple test, along with my 1-Mile Fitness Test for Lifters Only, is a quick, no-cost way to assess your risks.
Just remember, this isn't saying that doing push-ups prevents CVD. Rather, push-up ability is merely indicative of having the kind of upper-body strength that provides those cardioprotective benefits.
Being able to crank out 40-plus push-ups in a single set is also a pretty good endurance test and a test of relative strength. In short, you may fail because you're carrying around too much body fat. Good to know.
Didn't pass the test? Well, now you can do something about it before Steve gets your rare Luke Skywalker figure with the telescoping lightsaber.
- Yang, et al. "Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men." JAMA Network Open, 2019.