Research: Pushups Capacity Linked With Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

Research: Pushups Capacity Linked With Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

Pushups have been a staple of exercise programs for as long as there’s been exercise programs. They’re a great bodyweight exercise for upper body strength and function which is fantastic considering how simple and cost effective they are to do.

Interestingly, the number of pushups you can do may provide insights to your overall health.

A recent study, published by the JAMA Network, has found a significant link between pushups capacity and a reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease in active middle-aged men.

This is important considering cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide.

So it’s exciting to think that such a simple, everyday exercise could be used to screen for the issue going forward.

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What They Did

The study observed 1,104 male firefighters over 10 years from 2000 to 2010. They measured pushup capacity and exercise tolerance on a treadmill.

Importantly, they also recorded any cardiovascular “events” during that time. These events covered heart disease, heart failure, cardiac-related death etc.

The average age of participants was 39.6 (18 years and older) and mean body mass index was 28.7 – which interestingly in its own right, is bordering on obese.

What They Found

The study found those able to complete 11 or more pushups had a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease than those below 10.

Those able to complete 11 or more pushups had a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease than those below 10.Click To Tweet

Better yet, those who could perform more than 40 pushups had a 96% less risk of a cardiovascular event compared to those below 10.

Furthermore, pushup capacity gave a better indication of cardiovascular disease risk than treadmill testing.


As with any study, we need to make sure that we can generalize these results before accepting them.

Considering 100% of the participants were male, we can’t automatically generalize these results to women. I have a feeling we probably can, but we’d need a female-specific study to corroborate.

It’s the same idea with those who aren’t firefighters. If we assume their job is generally an active one, how closely do these findings relate to less active occupations?

Again, gut-feel says pushups are probably still a good indicator of cardiovascular disease risk regardless, but perhaps the final numbers may be different.

Finally, despite the study using pushups as a guide it didn’t seem to specify what constituted an acceptable pushup.

From my own exercise I know that there can be a huge variation between what people consider a “good” pushup.

For me, your chest has to hit the ground. But there’s no shortage of half and three-quarter depth pushups going around.

It’d be nice to know how deep each participant went as that may again change the numbers slightly. Would eight ‘full’ pushups be just as good an indicator of disease risk as 16 half pushups

Obviously the more pushups the better but it could shift the needle in some way.

Related: Here’s why I’m at odds with evidence-based practice.


Overall it seems pushups are a great indicator of cardiovascular disease risk.

This probably doesn’t mean you need to binge on pushups (certainly won’t hurt though) if you want better heart health. But it does suggest they’re a good measuring stick of how you’re going.

If you can drop and give yourself twenty, then you may as well stand up and give yourself five, because your heart is probably in the healthy range.

How many pushups can you do?

What are your thoughts on these new findings?

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