Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at the relationship between push-ups and heart disease, how cardio improves your microbiome, and why short bursts of activity appear to be better for weight loss.

If you can do this many push-ups, you’re probably heart healthy

For men, at least, the number of push-ups you can crank out appears to be a pretty solid predictor for the risk of developing heart disease in the years ahead.

A new study, covered by Reuters, that tracked more than 1,100 male firefighters for a decade found that the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack, was 96 percent lower among men who could do 40 or more push-ups during timed tests versus the men who could do fewer than 10.

While other factors from age to weight to VO2 max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumed during exercise) were also predictive of heart disease, surprisingly push-ups were the strongest indicator, probably because they were a good indicator of overall fitness, with most men having to do a fair amount of movement on a regular basis to get to 40 or more.

Doctors say the test is a good, cheap way to judge the functional capacity of the heart and predict future problems, and it underscores the need for following current American Heart Association exercise guidelines, which call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week.

Can cardio improve your gut?

By now, you’ve probably heard that a healthy gut contributes to a whole host of other health bennies, from a strong immune system to improved digestion, as well as better moods and sleep. Aside from eating fermented foods and popping probiotics, a new study summarized on Science Daily confirms earlier findings that cardiovascular exercise also appears to boost the biodiversity in your gut.

This new research, published in Experimental Physiology, suggests that the efficiency with which we transport oxygen to our tissues—also known as cardiorespiratory fitness—is a far better predictor of gut bacteria diversity than either body-fat percentage or general physical activity.

In a small study of former breast cancer patients, participants performed a test to estimate peak cardiorespiratory fitness and took stool samples. The results showed that participants with higher levels of cardio fitness had greater microbiota diversity.

Because the sample was taken from such a small test group of women with lowered cardiovascular health, the findings are still preliminary and require further testing in the general population.

Stephen Carter, Ph.D., of Indiana University, lead author of the paper, says his team will now investigate how variations in exercise intensity influence microbiota diversity in order to come up with the best exercise prescription for gut health.

Bursts of fitness better for weight loss?

Shorter, more intense workouts may be more effective for weight loss than longer, more moderate workouts, a new study on BBC suggests.

A systematic review of 36 earlier studies found that those men and women doing high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, saw a 28.5 percent greater weight loss in four weeks than those doing longer steady-state cardiovascular exercise.

The research, published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that those doing interval training lost an average of 3.48 pounds during the period, compared with the 2.49 pounds lost by those doing lower-intensity workouts.

Researchers theorize that HIIT may lead to a greater energy expenditure after a workout, with the metabolism increased for a day following a sprint session. Moreover, the shorter HIIT sessions, experts speculate, may not have stoked the appetite as much as longer bouts of movement.

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