In a recent New York Times health and wellness blog, your fitness age and lifespan was discussed. There is an increasing amount of research coming out on cardiorespiratory fitness assessments and predicting cardiovascular disease risk. Assessing an individual’s peak exercise capacity can also determine their mortality rates. A “Vo2max” or “Maximum Oxygen Consumption” is how you can measure one’s exercise capacity. This test essentially measures your body’s ability to utilize oxygen during exercise, or how well your heart and lungs work in conjunction with one another to provide oxygen to the body’s working parts. Recent research shows an inverse relationship to your Vo2max and all-cause mortality. Meaning, the higher your Vo2max, the lower your risk of illness and death!
Typical past use:
Vo2max testing has historically been used by athletes to measure their exercise capacity. Typically, the higher their Vo2max, the better their cardiovascular endurance . Thus, it is important for competitive athletes to achieve as high a score as possible. In any timed event, athletes are always striving for lower times. Increasing your Vo2max would theoretically increase your propensity for training and ability to achieve better times. This type of testing can now be used in the general population and assist in the assessment of an individual’s health status.
With increasing availability of Cardio Pulmonary Exercise Testing equipment, in both wellness centers and doctor’s offices, the non-athlete can assess their Vo2max. In many medical journals, studies have compared the relationship between Vo2max scores and disease risk. The studies have concluded that Vo2max scoring was a better predictor of risk of death among both -l patients with and without cardiovascular disease than the traditional risk factors (age, BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, etc.). Understanding your Vo2max is an essential part of your overall wellness and ability to have a high quality of life.
How to achieve a higher Vo2max:
I know you didn’t think I’d throw all that information out there without telling you how to improve your Vo2max score, did you? One thing that must be noted is that there are two main components of your Vo2max. One is a genetic component, and the other is your fitness training! You only have control of your fitness training.
Studies have shown that interval training produces a greater increase in exercise capacity than steady state exercise. Interval training is defined as the constant elevation and depression of the heart rate. This means training at a high intensity for short bursts, followed by “active rest”. For example, you’d see much more benefit from alternating sprinting and walking instead of jogging at one slow pace for 30 minutes. This does not mean you need to sign up for Cross Fit or any other High Intensity Interval Training routines, but anything that will elevate your heart rate up to ~85% of your age-adjusted heart rate maximum will do!
If you are someone who is de-conditioned at this point, you should always start off with lower to moderate intensity exercise. This will allow your body to adapt to the new movements and stresses of exercise. Eventually the body will adapt to the exercise and you will be able to move to higher intensity. The goal is to build your body up to the point where you can tolerate around 3 days of interval training for 30 minutes.
Maintain your body:
Exercise capacity can plummet to your genetic baseline after 6-8 weeks of sedentary behavior. It will be essential to listen to your body when training. Sometimes, your rest days will be just as important as your work days. You have to give your body time to adjust to the workouts and recover. Overtraining is a frequent obstacle for people who exercise. Incorporating resistance training and mobility exercises will be important to help decrease your injury risk. Remember to listen to your body and take necessary steps to maintain your structural integrity, because all the hard work can be gone in 6 short weeks if you suffer an injury!
Even if you are a regular exerciser, additional data on your body is never a bad thing. You can always look to improve your routine, or tweak a few things to optimize your health. After all, the idea is to live a long and awesome life, right?