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Men Who Can Do 40 Pushups Have a Lower Risk for Heart Disease

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

pushup benefits

Story at-a-glance -

  • Men who were able to complete more than 40 pushups had a 96 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular events compared to those who could do less than 10
  • Men who could complete between 21 and 30 pushups had only 25 percent of the heart problems compared to the 10 and under group
  • The number of pushups you can complete appears to be an accurate way to gauge your heart health and fitness level
  • By building your muscular strength, pushups help you ward off cardiometabolic risks, and a higher level of muscular strength is linked to a lower risk of cancer mortality, metabolic syndrome and age-related weight and fat gain
  • It’s possible to modify pushups to suit any workout level, from beginner to advanced

Drop and give me 20! Actually, make that 40. A study from Harvard's School of Public Health revealed that middle-aged men who can complete more than 40 pushups have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with men who can do less than 10.1

Considering heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and pushups are a simple, free activity that anyone can learn to do, this is information well worth acting on. Pushups themselves, despite their seeming simplicity, are incredibly beneficial. However, it's likely not that pushups are a panacea for your heart but, rather, serve as an indicator of your overall fitness level.

While more extensive exercise tolerance tests such as treadmill tests, are available, and these have also been linked to cardiovascular disease risk, they can be expensive and time consuming and typically require you to visit a professional to administer the test.

The featured study is encouraging because this simple test you can do anywhere suggests the number of pushups you can complete may be a comparable and accurate way to gauge your heart's health, with the researchers concluding, "Although larger studies in more diverse cohorts are needed, pushup capacity may be a simple, no-cost measure to estimate functional status."2

Ability to Complete 40-Plus Pushups Linked to Lower Heart Disease Risk

The study involved more than 1,100 male firefighters with a mean age of 40 years, who completed both pushup capacity and submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance tests. During 10 years of follow-up, the men had annual physical exams and completed health questionnaires.

Those who were able to complete more than 40 pushups at the start of the study had a 96 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular events compared to those who could do less than 10. Those who could do 11 or more pushups (but less than 40) also benefited, experiencing a reduced risk of heart health problems such as coronary artery disease, heart failure and sudden cardiac death compared to men who could do fewer.

Men who could complete between 21 and 30 pushups had only 25 percent of the heart problems compared to the 10 and under group, and, the researchers noted, "Participants able to perform 11 or more pushups at baseline had significantly reduced risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease events."3

An important note: The pushups were completed at one time, as opposed to broken up over the course of a day, in time with a metronome set at 80 beats per minute. The pushups were tallied until 80 were reached, the participant missed three or more beats of the metronome or stopped due to exhaustion or other symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain or shortness of breath.

"Surprisingly," study author Dr. Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the department of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a news release, "[P]ushup capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests."4

Even the U.S. military still uses pushups as part of their basic training and physical fitness tests, if that gives you an indication as to their usefulness as an indicator of fitness.

While the featured study concluded more research is needed to determine if the results apply to other populations, such as women, older adults or people who are less active than the firefighters in the study, there's no reason to wait when it comes to increasing your level of fitness. What's more, it's possible to modify pushups to suit any workout level, from beginner to advanced.

I normally do about 20 pushups everyday with perfect pushups on an incline, but i decided to try the test and did 40 but the last 2-3 were a bit of a challenge. I love body weight exercises and in addition to daily pushups do 8-10 pullups, 10 full body dips and 30 slow ankle grabber situps.

This is in addition to my 2-3 times per week weight training sessions and daily 45 minute walks. I am committed to regular exercise because it is key to improving your mitochondria, autophagy and overall health.

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What Makes Pushups so Beneficial?

Pushups target your chest muscles, shoulders, backs of your arms, abdominals and the serratus anterior (the muscles under your armpits), simultaneously. A typical pushup requires you to lift 50 to 75 percent of your body weight,5 which will help you build strength6 in your upper body and core.

Since they work multiple muscle groups at the same time, they can raise your metabolic rate to help you burn fat and lose weight.7 They demand a high level of physical exertion when performed properly and are also a weight-bearing exercise, which means they can help you to build stronger bones and ward off osteoporosis.

By building your muscular strength, they also help you to ward off cardiometabolic risks. Previous research has found that a higher level of muscular strength has a protective effect on premature death from any cause and high blood pressure in men. It's also linked to a lower risk of cancer mortality, metabolic syndrome and age-related weight and fat gain.8

What's more, by altering the position of your hands, you can tweak which muscles you're working and increase or decrease the intensity of the exercise. To increase the activity of your chest muscles, for instance, place your hands inward from the normal position, which is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Moving your hands outward places more emphasis on your triceps.9

Triangle pushups are particularly beneficial if you're looking to tone your arms, as they registered the highest levels of muscle activation for the triceps.10 A triangle pushup is performed similar to a standard pushup, except your hands are placed in a triangle shape on the floor, with your index fingers and thumb touching to form a triangle.

Form Matters When Completing Pushups

Pushups are only as effective as your form allows, and when first starting out you should value quality over quantity. An improperly performed pushup will not give you the benefits you're seeking and poses a risk of injury. To perform pushups correctly:

  1. Get on your knees and place your hands shoulder width apart on the floor. Flatten your palms and point your fingers forward.
  2. Rise on your toes. Keep your elbows straight and not locked. Your knees, hips, back and shoulders should be straight as well.
  3. Bend your elbows until your chest is an inch or so from the ground. Make sure your head is in a neutral position, chin tucked in. Look no more than 6 inches in front of your body.
  4. Straighten your elbows and push your body back into starting position. Your knees, hips and back must be aligned and straight.

Only once you have mastered the standard pushup should you attempt to move on to more challenging variations. A few points to keep in mind:

  • Keep your fingers widely spaced, which allows for better movement and increased strength.
  • Your elbows should bend at a 45-degree angle, positioned above your wrists and held near your body.
  • Your shoulder blades should be pulled in and downward. Avoid tensing your shoulders or moving them up toward your ears.
  • Keep your back straight and your quadriceps muscles tight. If your lower back feels stressed, push your hips forward while squeezing your buttocks.
  • Ensure each movement has a full range of motion, with your chest reaching as close to the floor as possible and your elbows extending fully on your way up.

A Beginner's Pushup Plan

If it's been awhile since you've tried to do pushups, there's no time like the present to get started. Remember, you can do pushups virtually anywhere and it only takes a few minutes. When you first start out, perform as many pushups as you can using proper form. That's your baseline. From there, keep track of how many more pushups you're able to complete each week.

If you can't physically complete one, start out with a wall pushup, which is done standing up with your palms flat against the wall. Stand with your feet about 3 feet away from a wall, then lean against it with your palms flat. Push backward with your arms, and then slowly come forward, making a pushup motion with your arms.

Once you can comfortably perform about a dozen pushups this way, advance to the regular pushup technique. Another beginner option is to keep your knees on the floor. Bring your heels up toward your buttocks, and keep your body straight. Go slow and use full range of motion, allowing your chest to gently touch the floor.

When your strength improves, progress to keeping your legs straight, and balancing on your toes. At this point, you can try the protocol recommended by Adam Bornstein, author and CEO of Born Fitness, to improve your routine:11

  • Week 1 (two workouts) — Do 10 sets of eight reps and rest for two minutes between sets. If you aren't able to perform eight pushups, rest accordingly.
  • Week 2 (two workouts) — Do eight sets of 10 reps and allot a minute of rest between sets.
  • Week 3 (two workouts) — Do six sets of 15 reps and allot a minute of rest between sets.
  • Week 4 (two workouts) — Do four sets of 20 reps and allot two minutes of rest between sets.

Advanced Pushup Variations

If you're ready to kick things up a notch, try some of the advanced techniques below. The great thing about pushups is that they give you instant feedback into your progress and fitness level. If one technique becomes too easy, it's time to confuse your muscles with a new movement.

Incline pushup — Place your hands on a raised surface, such as the seat of a chair or a table.

Put your hands on a medicine ball The ball is an unstable surface, and as it shifts, it will force your core muscles to work to keep you in balance, while providing a greater challenge to your upper body. A similar option is to use two medicine balls, place the palms of your hands on top of the balls and perform the pushup from there.

Switch hand positions — The placement of your hands will dictate which muscle groups are targeted. Instead of the traditional hand placement, try widening their stance to work your chest and shoulders.

If you bring your hands together below your chest, you'll work your triceps. You can also elevate one arm (place your hand on a yoga block, or lift it into the air, for instance), which will challenge your upper body even more.

Raise a leg — As you extend your leg behind you, your upper body gets a challenge while your core and glutes get toned.

Elevate your feet — In the traditional pushup position, put your feet on a step, chair or gym ball, so your feet are higher than your hands. This puts more weight on your upper body, giving your arms, chest and upper back a workout.

Do pushups off your fingertips — This is a more advanced technique that will improve the strength and grip of your hands.

For an even more high-intensity advanced routine, try:

  • Plyometric pushups — Once your sternum touches the floor, hold your position and breathe for about three seconds, then perform an explosive push upward.
  • Three minutes of pushups — It's quite simply, how many pushups can you do in three minutes? You need to have good technique, good form and a strategy. If you go all-out you'll lose your energy and likely won't last for three minutes. So go at a pace of about 80 percent of your total ability, and when you can't go any further, rest for 20 to 30 seconds, stretch and then resume.
  • The handstand pushup (highly advanced) — Facing a wall, place your hands at a 45-degree angle about one to two hand-lengths from the wall. Kick your legs up. You can use the wall to stabilize you as you perform the pushup. Breathe in as you lower yourself to the floor, and breathe out as you push yourself up.

To keep things interesting, consider starting a pushup challenge among your friends or family members. Try to do 25 pushups twice a day for two weeks and then set a new, higher goal, such as 55 pushups a day for three months.

Your increasing fitness level will be easy to tally along with the rising number of pushups you're able to complete, and remember that the more pushups you're able to do, the better your heart health is likely to be.