Image source: Garmin

A high VO2Max adds many healthy years to your life, one study says

Vo2Max is an important indicator of a person’s aerobic physical fitness. And while boosting endurance capacity may or may not add more years to your life, it will add more healthy years to your life. This is according to a study published by the Department of Sport Science, Medical Section, University of Innsbruck, Austria.

Essential reading: Tracking VO2Max with wearables. Why is it important?

The metric is a measurement of how well your body uses oxygen when you’re working out at your hardest, i.e. the higher your VO2 Max, the more fit you are. The letters stand for “volume”, oxygen” and “maximum”.

Put another way, this is an expression of the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during intense exercise. Vo2Max is sometimes expressed in liters of oxygen per minute (L/min). On most fitness trackers and smartwatches, though, it will be shown as a relative number. Usually as milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute.

Improving your Vo2Max is not easy but it can be done with regular training and persistence. The benefits are numerous. You’ll improve your fitness, be better able to deal with stress and more.

But it seems the benefits go beyond this. Vo2Max has been shown by this recent study to be a strong and independent predictor of all-cause and disease-specific mortality. So while exercise training has not been proven to extend a genetically fixed lifespan, it may add years to your life. What’s more it has been shown to give the years you are here more life.

The charts below illustrate this best. The first shows how average Vo2Max values of lifelong endurance athletes decline with age. The top line is for male subjects, the one in the middle for female and the bottom line is the control group of sedentary subjects (the average Joe).

Where are you on this scale? Hopefully closer to trained than sedentary individuals!

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The second chart is the all-important one. This shows the physical fitness of individuals until their death. The top line is for trained Vo2Max people, the other one is for sedentary individuals. The dotted line shows where the cut-off point resides between independent and dependent living.

As you can see, the study found that having a high VO2max adds years of assisted-free living. For a person that makes it to their mid-90s, it can add about 20 healthy life years.

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All of this makes interesting reading and illustrates the importance of keeping fit as you age, particularly during midlife. The study concludes:

“As yet, it is not possible to extend the genetically fixed lifespan with regular exercise training, but the chance to reach the later end of natural lifespan increases with higher physical fitness in midlife, where targeted preventative efforts may be launched. CRF (VO2max) is the strongest independent predictor of future life expectancy in both healthy and cardiorespiratory-diseased individuals.”

If your Vo2Max score is not as high as you would like it to be, don’t despair. The first step is purchasing a wearable that lets you know where you stand. These days, there are lots of fitness trackers and smartwatches that spit out VO2Max values.

Then it’s a matter of exercising regularly and making sure you are at a healthy weight. Interval training in particular is a great way of improving your fitness. This is also one of the best ways to burn excess fat.

Source: Frontiers In Bioscience, Landmark, 23, 1505-1516, March 1, 2018; Bioscience.org

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