You Might Be Using the Wrong Numbers to Gauge Your Health

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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Or, "quit showing off," as one researcher said to the fireman

Many, if not most of us count far too much on a collection of baseline numbers to establish how healthy we are. Blood pressure, heart rate, VO2 max, cholesterol, body weight and composition, that kind of thing. BMI is utter bunkum, so I won't go there.

Some of us also test our oxygenation levels, recovery rates after exertion (for me that means how fast my heartrate goes from 150 back down to the low sixties) how swiftly we return to normal oxygenation after sprints on low oxygen, which is something I do regularly. Those are much more indicative of overall health, but still, not the whole profile.

Let me start with a true story:

My best male buddy Steve, then a budding fireman-in-training in his fifties and my new roommate down in Durango, Colorado, bet me $100 back in 2001 that I couldn't do 50 men's pushups. It simply wasn't in his wheelhouse that women could do such a thing. By that point- something I didn't bother to tell him before we shook hands on the bet- I'd been doing at least fifty pushups either daily or every other day. And in fact could likely do a lot more.

I like to win. We shook. Then he forgot about it.

I didn't.

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Some months later we were both at the Durango rec center. I called him over to the floor work area, told him to count off. I could see his face in the mirror as I punched out my fifty.

By the time I had reached thirty-five, Steve's face had dropped. I was just building up speed, and wasn't out of breath at all. He could see his hundred heading my way.

I landed the fifty, then did another twenty for good measure. Leapt up, gave him a high five.

"You owe me," I said, grinning. He smiled sheepishly. He never made a bet like that with me again.

Twenty years later I can do 120, without stopping. The last ten bite a bit. If I pushed it I could probably do another twenty, but they might hurt.

However, here's the real point. Those pushups are a far more accurate indicator of the kind of heart health I possess than many of the standard numbers medicine uses.

In a February 2019 paper on the JAMA Open Network, the findings seemed to point to a startling fact. Put simply, the more pushups you can do, the less likely you are to have cardiac arrest events.

The pushup is hardly limited in its benefits just to the heart. When you strengthen your body with this challenging exercise, you're also guaranteeing yourself powerful pecs, strong arms, and an insurance policy against the dreaded tricep wings. Working those big chest muscles also works the heart, but that's only part of the benefit. I like short sleeve or sleeveless clothing.

My mother had a set of batwings that would rival Batman's cape. One of the reasons that long sleeves are de rigeur for women over a Certain Age is because the assumption is that we don't work our arms. Cover the ugly flaps.

Speak for yourself, Sparky. While I most certainly understand the challenge involved in teaching yourself to do just one, the point is that you can teach yourself to do just one...and then some. I had to start there, and on my knees, in the pushup position the military at the time deemed all we poor weenie women could handle. That's no longer the case; the military expects more from its badass women soldiers, and it gets more.

Because we can all learn to do pushups. It's like anything else. You and I begin where we are, we try, try again, try again, until we can do. Just. One. I saw a video of a veteran last week, the man had no forearms and nothing below the knee, and he was doing one-legged pushups. On his stumps. So please kindly do NOT get in my face and gaslight me about how impossible this is. Maybe if you don't have arms, yeah. But folks, please.

It had never occurred to me many decades ago that my ability to punch out one of the most basic of military exercises would be a fine predictor of the kind of health I would enjoy much later in life. Do enjoy late in life.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote this in her New York Times piece about the JAMA report:

...the researchers noticed that more than 1,100 of the firefighters also had completed push-up tests during their yearly exams. That testing had been bracingly analog: a clinic staffer counted how many push-ups each man could complete before his arms gave out or he reached 80 and was told he could quit showing off and stop.

Since they had the push-up data, the researchers slipped it in as a second data set in their examination of current fitness and later heart problems, categorizing the men by how many push-ups they could complete: zero to 10; 11 to 20; 21 to 30; 31 to 40; and 40-plus.

They then ran numbers.

And to their surprise, push-up capability proved to be a better predictor, statistically, of future heart problems than the treadmill tests.

Men who could complete at least 11 push-ups had less risk of developing heart problems in the following decade than those who could complete fewer than 10, they found. (author bolded)

I laughed out loud at the quit showing off and stop comment. Because at 68, I only do eighty on a bad day, or I'm injured. That's not showing off so much as simply getting it done. My life, my heart health and longevity are what I gain when I get it done.

That's not showing off so much as showing up for myself.

My sports jock chiropractor told me a story that I have mentioned elsewhere: the sixty-plus man who weighed more than 300 lbs. He set out to do one pushup. Just ONE. Suffice it to say the story ends well. He does triathalons these days, having lost the equivalent of a full human body off his person. Pushups, and our ability to master them, can be hugely motivating in many ways. They're hard. They're supposed to be hard.

Mastering that kind of hard makes other stuff look a lot easier.

Gretchen writes:

This risk reduction mounted impressively at the highest level of push-up ability. Those men who could get through 40 or more push-ups had 96 percent less risk of heart problems in the next 10 years than those who quit at 10 or fewer. (author bolded)

While most of us aren't firemen, we deserve to be heroes and sheroes to those who love us and who would like us to hang around a bit longer. For those folks, bragging rights to lots of pushups means we get to play with them a lot longer.

And that's worth bragging about.

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Welcome home. You are HOME if you like irreverent, smart, funny, in-your-face writing. You are HOME if you like stories about interesting people of all ages, cultures, stripes, backgrounds, beliefs doing amazing things because they made different decisions. You are HOME if you wanna learn about aging vibrantly, being in the outdoors, getting and staying fit no matter our number. You are HOME if, on occasion, you like to laugh so hard you spew your drink of choice on your lap cat/dog/gerbil/centipede/soon-to-be ex. I work hard, ride fast horses, do lots of sports, fly high and still leap out of airplanes. Yeah, really, and I am 68. And yes I love, respect and appreciate feedback, including stuff that's hard. Because hard is the recipe for resilient. Wanna play? Let's. Please. Pull up a chair. There's room by the fire. In summer, there's room on the patio. (Okay so I don't have a patio. I made that up.)Get comfy. Bring a towel for your lap. Welcome home.

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