Firefighters Study Reveals Risk of Heart Disease is Linked to Push-Up Capacity

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian
March 15, 2019
Push-ups and Heart Disease Risk

How many push-ups can you do? It may sound like an arbitrary question, but it turns out the number of push-ups you can do may be tied to your future risk of a heart attack, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. 

The study, which followed young firefighters for 10 years, found that those able to perform more than 40 push-ups at the outset of the study had a much lower risk for a heart-related problem than firefighters who did fewer than 10 push-ups. 

Researchers recruited more than 1,500 male firefighters from 10 Indiana fire departments who were at least 18 years old. Firefighters underwent a baseline evaluation that included standard height, weight, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements; a lifestyle and health history questionnaire; a treadmill exercise tolerance test; and push-up capacity test.

Push-Up Capacity and Heart Attack Risk

For the push-up capacity test, researchers set a metronome to 80 and instructed firefighters to begin push-ups in time with the metronome while clinic staff counted push-ups until firefighters reached 80, were not able to physically continue or missed three or more metronome beats.

Based on push-up performance, firefighters were divided into five groups, given periodic medical evaluations and followed for 10 years. Data from 1,100 firefighters, with an average age of 39 and body mass index (or BMI) of 28.7 were used in the final analysis. Thirty-seven heart disease-related issues such as coronary artery disease, heart failure or sudden cardiac death were reported during the 10-year period. 

The correlation between push-ups and heart disease risk among physically active men suggests that push-ups may be used as a future heart disease risk assessment tool. More research is needed to see if results can be replicated in other groups of people.

Firefighters & Heart Attacks

“This study may seem like it only benefits firefighters, but keep in mind: firefighting is a profession known for higher rates of cardiac deaths,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Whatever learnings we can glean from this study may help our society at large.” 

Sudden cardiac events – not fire-related injuries — are the leading cause of on-the-job deaths among firefighters. The combination of extreme heat and physical exertion may injure the heart, according to a study published in Circulation. And another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found most firefighters who die from cardiac arrest have narrowed arteries leading to the heart and/or structural damage to the heart. 

“For now, work with your primary care physician to help determine your risk for heart disease. Start by getting your inflammation levels, blood sugar and cholesterol particle size checked,” Kaminetsky says.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you to develop a wellness plan that can help you focus on preventing or controlling heart disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian
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