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There are many ways to reduce your risk of having a heart attack, including exercising regularly, eating sensibly, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and not smoking.

Healthy habits are a great way to protect your heart, but how do you know if it’s working? Now maybe you can, and it will only take a couple minutes to find out.

Scientists at Harvard have identified a simple, effective way for middle-aged men in active occupations—like police officers—to tell if they are at high risk for a heart attack: the number of push-ups they can do.

Researchers studied 1,104 male firefighters who completed physical tests regularly over the course of seven years. The push-up portion of the test required them to do as many push-ups as they could, in correct form and at the rate of 40 per minute.

The health of the firefighters was then monitored over the next decade. Within that time, 37 of the firefighters in the study experienced a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, or sudden cardiac death. Of the 37 men who experienced heart problems, 36 of them had been unable to do 40 push-ups during testing.

The results showed that men who could do 40 or more push-ups were 96% less likely to suffer a heart attack or other cardiovascular event than those who could complete fewer than 10 push-ups. Even men who could do 11 or more push-ups saw a reduced incidence of later heart issues.

“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,” said Justin Yang, one of the authors of the study.

The study also tracked the participants’ performance on a treadmill exercise tolerance test but did not find as strong a correlation between treadmill results and heart attack risk, which indicates that push-ups are a more effective indicator of heart health than overall cardiovascular fitness level.

The good news about this study is that it provides a simple, easy way to predict the long-term heart health of men who work as police officers and firefighters—while the study used firefighters exclusively, the age, fitness level and type of occupation is similar enough that the results should translate to male police officers as well.

Studies show that police officers and other law enforcement and public safety personnel are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the general public. Sudden cardiac death accounts for up to 10% of all U.S. police line-of-duty deaths. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, heart attacks were the third-leading cause of line-of-duty death for police officers in 2018, behind gunfire and car crashes.

By doing a baseline fitness assessment like the one offered by CHIP, police and fire departments can give their employees a better idea of their heart health, using a method that is quick, low-cost, and requires no time-consuming and expensive medical tests and evaluations. The test can also enable departments to identify people that are at higher risk for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease and address the issue early.

If you’re interested in scheduling baseline or ongoing fitness testing for your department, contact CHIP

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