World Health Organization (WHO) data indicate that every year there are 17.9 million deaths due to cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), accounting for approximately 31 percent of global deaths.
Many of the factors that increase the risk of CVD are modifiable, chiefly an unhealthful diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking, or frequent consumption of alcohol.
The link between exercise — particularly physical fitness — and CVD, therefore, is not a new one.
Yet current methods of correctly assessing physical fitness in relation to cardiovascular risk, such as the cardiac exercise stress test (or submaximal treadmill exercise test), are costly and can take a fair amount of time to conduct.
Now, the findings of a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, may allow physicians to estimate risk more easily, based simply on a person’s capacity to complete multiple pushups.
The results, which appear in JAMA Network Open and are accessible online, indicate that physically active men who are able to do more than 40 pushups may have a lower CVD risk than peers who can complete fewer pushups.
“Our findings provide evidence that pushup capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” says first author Justin Yang, M.D.
“Surprisingly, pushup capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests,” he adds.
In the current study — which is probably the first of its kind — the research team collected and analyzed the health information of 1,104 active male firefighters with a mean age of 39.6 and mean BMI of 28.7. These data covered a period of 10 years, between 2000 and 2010.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured both the pushup capacity and the submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance of each participant.
The investigators gathered the remaining relevant data through the participants’ yearly physical exams and by asking them to fill in a series of medical questionnaires.
Throughout the 10-year period, the researchers registered 37 CVD-related events in the cohort of volunteers. Notably, all but one of these outcomes happened in men who had been able to do 40 or fewer pushups at the beginning of the study.
The investigators’ analysis revealed that participants who had been able to complete over 40 pushups to begin with had a 96 percent lower cardiovascular risk than men who had completed 10 or fewer pushups.
Moreover, the team notes, pushup capacity had a stronger link with lower CVD risk even than aerobic capacity, which is measured through the submaximal treadmill exercise test.
However, the researchers warn that because their cohort of participants was made up of individuals in a specific group — active men in their 30s and 40s — the findings may not apply to women, or to men who are older, younger, or less physically active than those in the cohort.
Still, the current findings remain important in establishing the link between cardiovascular health and exercise, the investigators maintain.
“This study emphasizes the importance of physical fitness on health and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters.”
Senior author Prof. Stefanos Kales, M.D.
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