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Heart Health Exercise: It’s Free. It’s Easy. And You Can Do It Just About Anywhere

If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to judge your cardiovascular health, as well as a way to get and stay heart-healthy, a simple set of pushups should be your exercise of choice.

Researchers looked at a number of health factors and other assessment tools, such as treadmill tests and in-office exams, and found an association between pushup capacity and cardiovascular disease (CVD) outcomes, The Harvard Gazette says.

This was no small study: It spanned 10 years and looked at 37 CVD-related outcomes. The findings:

The researchers calculated that men able to do more than 40 pushups had a 96 percent reduced risk of CVD events compared with those who were able to do fewer than 10 pushups. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease events than was aerobic capacity as estimated by a submaximal treadmill exercise test.

It’s true — pushups not only are some of the simplest, yet most effective exercises, but they cost virtually nothing. And, you can do them just about anywhere. The only caveat, if you’re going to do pushups, is to learn to do them properly. Here are six ways to get more out of your pushup:

1. Press your palms firmly on the floor — Make sure your palms are flat on the floor and focus on pushing from your wrists, not your fingers. Also externally rotate your arms so your elbow and shoulder joints are in a natural and comfortable position allowing full range of motion.

2. Squeeze your lats — This will help stabilize your upper body: Think of squeezing your armpits as tightly as possible, as if you were holding something between them.

3. Draw your shoulder blades down and back — This will engage your back muscles, ease strain on your neck and target the correct muscles.

4. Keep your neck and spine aligned — Avoid tilting your head too far up or down, as this increases the pressure on your spine. Gaze about 6 inches or so in front of your fingertips and keep your eyes focused there as you push up.

5. Engage your core — Activating your entire core relieves stress on your lower back and stabilizes your hips, which helps you maintain your body in a firm, straight line as you raise and lower your body.

6. Remember to breathe correctly — Your breath is part of proper form and helps power your movement, so remember to inhale as you lower your body, and exhale as you raise up.

If you’re a newbie at pushups, know beforehand that this exercise can take a certain amount of strength to perform properly, so if you're just starting out you may want to begin by keeping 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. By pulling your elbows closer to your sides, you can place more focus on your chest muscles. You can also begin with wall pushups, which are done while standing with your feet about 1 foot from the wall.

Once you become more advanced, you can even turn your pushups into a high-intensity exercise that works your whole body.

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