Recently there was a splash in the news that you may or may not have seen. Apparently, there was a research study done on over 1000 male fire fighters testing how many push-ups each could do. The fire fighters were then followed for 10 years to determine who had the most cardiovascular disease or actual events.
Turns out the men who could do 40 push-ups or more had BY FAR less cardiovascular disease or events 10 years later. Those that could do 10 or less were at the greatest risk.
What does this mean for the rest of us?
Should we start doing push-ups all the time? This is exactly what one related author did. He had suffered a heart attack, and decided to get with the program. He went on to do 100,000 push-ups in one year. In the same article, he gives advice about how to gradually increase push-up capacity over a period of weeks, so that others may follow suit.
His point, and one of the points made by the authors of the study done at Harvard, is that pushups are an easy, cost-effective (aka, zero cost) way of getting in some exercise. And it turns out that the push-up test is actually more accurate than the more costly and cumbersome treadmill test for assessing cardiovascular health.
But the main point for why push-ups are correlated with better cardiovascular health is that muscle strength correlates with lower mortality.
This is definitely food for thought.
Here we have a “teaching moment.”
There are some other, more subtle things going on as to why push-ups in particular could be good for you and your heart. It relates to circulation, heart rate, and how muscles work.
What I am about to say totally explains why you may notice that your heart rate goes up quite a bit and you breathe hard when you lift weights with your arms. This is not technically a cardio workout, but it can feel like one. Now it turns out that it actually is, as evidenced by the Harvard study.
But there are some important differences between lower body and upper body exercise.
If you are a runner, for instance, the muscles in your legs are propelling you AND pumping blood back to your heart so you can keep getting oxygen delivered to your body quite effectively.
However, when you are lifting weights with your arms, the muscles that are working are smaller so oxygen delivery is not as efficient. Your heart has to work harder; heart rate goes up more quickly, and you will reach your maximum capacity sooner. If you are out of shape, or have not warmed up, you can be at risk for something bad happening (like the classic heart attack while shoveling snow).
Here’s another thing that makes weight lifting or push-ups different than a classic aerobic exercise like running. Part of how your muscles are working is isometrically. You are holding the weight or push-up position without moving for part of the time (this is the definition of isometrics). When that happens, your circulation is reduced, placing an even greater strain on your heart.
And another…when you lift weights with your arms, it builds more pressure in your chest, which puts some restriction on your heart.
So, could it be that the reason push-ups are good for you is not just from the out and out gains in muscle strength, but also in preparing your heart, muscles, and circulation for upper body stress and strain? I think the answer has to be yes.
Can push-ups save your life?
Sure seems like it. But, don’t discount general strength training to give you much the same result. Not to mention other benefits from it like lowering risk of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, and osteoporosis to name a few.
Here’s to a healthy heart,
© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.