If You Can Do Just One of These, You will Live Longer

September 25, 2022

If You Can Do Just One of These - You Will Live Much Longer

Everyone knows that being physically fit is good for you. But just what does physically fit mean? Do you have to get a personal trainer and go to a gym four times a week? For decades we've thought that you can test your future "risk" of death by getting on a treadmill test with a heart monitor and seeing how long you can last as the treadmill gets faster and faster. Want a more accurate tool? Cheaper too?

Get down on the floor and see how many pushups you can do! That's what they did at Harvard. The study, published in JAMA Open Networks was the most read study in medicine in 2019. Middle-aged firefighters (1,104 of them) had treadmill tests and did pushups and were then followed for 10 years. Turns out doing 40 pushups for middle-aged men predicted a 96% lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to those who could only do 10 or less. Any women? Nope. Women have lower upper body strength so the data doesn't work on women at the 40 number, but the principle remains.

Do we have other data that reflects longevity risk? Yup. Walking. The University of Sydney shows that walking at a faster pace (>3 mph) is extra good for you over just a mosey. For those over 60, being able to walk one mile at over 3 mph had a 53% reduction in cardiovascular risk. Just walking a mile regularly provided a 21% risk reduction. They studied some 50,225 walkers to get this data. The same findings come from the Honolulu Retired Men's Study that showed walking 2 miles a day reduced cardiovascular mortality some 50% (27 down to 12 deaths per 1,000 years). We can all walk, and faster is better.

More ideas? Yes! Can you get up from the floor? Cross your legs and sit down on the floor. Then get back up from that cross-legged position. Here is the video. Score yourself by taking off 0.5 points for each time you need to use your forearm, knee, or hand, or need to shift onto the side of one leg before getting all the way up. Also, off 0.5 points if you lose balance. If you score under 8 after starting at 10, you are two times more likely to die in the next 6 years. If you score 3 or less points, you are 5 times as likely to die. Wow! Getting yourself limber and fit enough to get up from the floor matters! In fact, scoring a 6 is lousy, but raising it to a 7 gives you a 21% reduction in mortality. You can work on that. That yoga class sounds all the more attractive. You can practice, practice, practice in the privacy of your own home and get better and stronger at it.


Final study. Grip strength. Handshake strength. In a landmark study from England published in the BMJ, handgrip strength was strongly, inversely correlated with all-cause mortality. You can test it with a dynamometer. Levels of < 57 lbs in men and 35 in women correlate with trouble. You can fix that too. Start by finding a bar you can hang from and just let yourself "hang out". Can you hang 60 seconds (men) or 30 seconds (women)? That's good. If not, practice it. It will build up your strength. Then, can you do one chin-up? Two? Ten?

We didn't cover peak flow, oxygen consumption, and many others but this is a start. Getting fit matters, and we can measure it in a variety of ways.

www.What will Work for me? Whew, I measured my pushups some 5 years ago and go all the way to 12. I have been at it for 5 years now and I can hit 40 if I give it a go. But one chin up? Getting off the floor? Oh, dear. This falling apart with aging is a drag and keeping ahead of it takes work. Just plain does. I'll encourage you if you encourage me.

References: JAMA Network, Sidney. AU, Eur Jr Prevent Cardiology, Clin Interv Aging, Geriatrics, YouTube,  BMJ, Topendsports,

Pop Quiz

1. You live longer when you are .............?                      Answer: Physically fit

2. You will be 96% less likely to have a heart attack if you can demonstrate your fitness by doing what?        Answer: 40 pushups

3. Easier to accomplish, is walking. What is the best method of walking?                                Answer: Faster. 20 minutes for one mile predicts at least 50% lower risk of heart disease.

4. Can you name two other methods of assessment?                                  Answer: Hand grip, getting off the floor without assistance, peak flow on forced breathing....

5. Can you name the simplest goal with hand grip?                          Answer: Hanging from a bar for 60 sec (men), 30 sec (women). No..not that kind of bar.