Firefighters prove that pushups can reduce heart disease

By J.D. Dougherty

If you’re a man and you are able to do at least 40 pushups in one try, then you’re a lot less likely to develop heart disease over the next decade, a recent study by Harvard University noted.

According to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, theirs is the first study to demonstrate how push up have the ability to reduce the number one killer of American adults: Heart disease.

Scientists noted that middle-aged men who are able to knock out 40-plus pushups without stopping have a whopping 96 percent lower risk of developing one of several potentially deadly cardiovascular-related diseases including heart failure, as compared to men in the same age group who can’t do more than 10 pushups at once.

For the study, Harvard researchers looked at health data from 1,104 active-duty male firefighters gathered every year between 2000 and 2010. 

When researchers began the study, the average age of each participant was roughly 40 years old with an average body mass index of 28.7. Firefighters were instructed to do as many pushups as they could, while their treadmill tolerance was also analyzed. 

By the study’s end, 37 participants were diagnosed with a heart disease condition; 36 of them could not do 40 pushups initially when the study began. Meanwhile, researchers said the results of the treadmill tolerance phase of the test were not linked so clearly to heart disease outcomes. 

“Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting,” the study’s first author, Justin Yang, an occupational medicine resident at the Harvard school, said in a news release

“Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests,” he added.

“This study emphasizes the importance of physical fitness on health, and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters,” said senior author Stefanos Kales, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and the chief of occupational medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 610,000 Americans die annually from heart disease, or about 25 percent (1 in 4) deaths overall, making it the nation’s number one killer for both men and women (though more than half of heart disease deaths in 2009 were men).

About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, the CDC noted further; of those, 525,000 are new incidents and 210,000 are repeat incidents.

For firefighters, heart attacks account for an astounding 45 percent of all work-related deaths, according to research cited by Provident Insurance. 

The company states on its website:

Firefighters face serious risks on the job such as heat exhaustion, burns, physical and mental stress. Additionally, they frequently come into contact with high levels of carbon monoxide and other toxic hazards. With these dangerous exposures, this line of work presents a likelihood for many diseases. Firefighters who smoke or engage in other unhealthy lifestyle habits are at even a greater risk. Smoking increases the risk of getting heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, stress, and poorer treatment outcomes for certain diseases, such as hepatitis.

Cancer, chronic respiratory disease, Hepatitis B and C, and Stress complete the rest of the top five health risks for the firefighting profession. 

Exercise — besides just pushups — will not only mitigate these diseases, but also better prepare firefighters for their stress—inducing jobs. The more strenuous the workouts, the better, in fact. 

“Today’s firefighter needs to better understand the correlation between physical fitness and improved job performance,” writes Guido Calcagno for Fire Engineering. “Firefighting is a career that requires you to be at the peak of your game at all times. Going from a sound sleep to your peak heart rate within three minutes can put physical and emotional stress on anybody.

“Improving your overall strength through physical fitness allows you to perform fireground tasks without putting yourself or others at risk for injury,” he added. 

J. D. Dougherty, a former paramedic, firefighter, and 15-year military veteran of OEF, is co-founder of Survival Legion, a vet-owned company that stresses functional fitness and draws it’s uniqueness from the Roman Legions.

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