I’m almost 75 and have the fitness of a 53-year-old (although I felt older shoveling the foot of snow in the driveway this morning). This column explains the importance of your fitness age and how to estimate it.
Fitness age is an estimate of how biologically old your body is compared to your chronological age. Hopefully your fitness age is less than your biological age, e.g., you’re 60 years old and your fitness age is about the same as a 50-year-old’s fitness. If this is the case you’ll probably live longer than most 60-year-olds. And if your fitness age is more than your chronological age, you’re at increased risk of dying prematurely. And if you develop a chronic disease, the symptoms will probably progress more slowly than if your fitness age is low.
Aerobic fitness normally declines with age. One meta-analysis looked at Cardiorespiratory fitness as a quantitative predictor of all-cause mortality. “Epidemiological studies have indicated an inverse association between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and coronary heart disease (CHD) or all-cause mortality in healthy participants.” The researchers quantified this relationship by analyzing data from 33 studies with 102,980 participants. From the data in the different studies researchers estimated cardiorespiratory fitness as maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max). The researchers concluded, “Better CRF was associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality.”
Norwegian scientists studied the relationships between aerobic fitness (VO2 max) and how long people lived. They directly measured the VO2max of thousands of Norwegians, aged between 20 and 90. They also tabulated markers of their general health, including body composition, blood pressure, heart rate and exercise habits. They found the higher the VO2 max the longer people lived. They found that A simple nonexercise model of cardiorespiratory fitness predicts long-term mortality.
They developed a model, which uses gender, chronological age, height in centimeters, weight in kilograms, resting heart rate, how frequently you exercise, how long you exercise and how hard you exercise.
I’m a 75-year-old male. I’m 178 cm (5’ 10”) tall and weigh 75 kg (165 lbs). My resting HR is 50 bpm. I exercise most days of the week for more than 30 minutes (like shoveling snow) and some days I get a little sweaty and out of breath. The model says my body is 53 years old!
This model is derived from a large population and on average the cohort of people with the same fitness indicators as me have the same fitness age. My actual fitness age is somewhere between about 50 and 60, probably toward the lower end. The value of this model is it helps you understand the factors that contribute to your fitness age. Most of the factors are in your control except gender, age and height.
The Northwestern Mutual lifespan model also helps you understand what factors are important. The Northwestern model uses gender, age, height and weight, family medical history, blood pressure, stress in your life, exercise, diet, alcohol use, smoking and use of recreational drugs. The model is set up so that each time you enter an answer it recalculates your age, which helps you to understand which factors are contributing to your projected age. My predicted lifespan is 101 years! I’ve been keeping training info in blank journals since 1974. I have enough blank journals to use until age 90. I wonder if that’s enough – or too many?
My geriatric curve is also important. Most people’s health and fitness start to irrevocably decline after about age 50, and as they get older their health and fitness decline more rapidly. This is called the geriatric curve. Depending on your current fitness you may be able to get fitter, i.e., reverse your geriatric curve; however, eventually your fitness will start to decline. You can slow down the rate of decline – but you can’t stop it. I want to keep cycling, hiking, skiing and kayaking into my 90s and then drop dead. This is called “squaring the geriatric curve.”
Bottom line: You have control over most of the factors that determine how long and how well you will live. Live long and prosper.
- Anti-Aging: VO2 Max
- Squaring the Geriatric Curve
- Anti-Aging – You’re Only as Old as You Think
- How Old Are You Really?
- 8 Reasons a Training Journal Helps
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eBooks on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond.
The book explains how to get the most benefit from your endurance rides. I provide sample training plans to increase your annual riding miles and to build up to 25-, 50-, 100- and 200-mile rides. I explain why intensity training is important and the pros and cons of gauging intensity using rate of perceived exertion, heart rate and power. I include how to do intensity exercise and different intensity workouts. I integrate endurance and intensity training into an annual plan for optimal results.
Anti-Aging describes the importance of strength training and includes 28 exercises for lower body, upper body and core strength illustrated with photos. I provide an annual plan to integrate strength training with endurance and intensity training. It also has 14 stretches illustrated with photos.
Anti-Aging has an annual plan to put together all six of the aspects of aging well: cardiorespiratory exercise, intensity training, strength workouts, weight-bearing exercise, stretching and balance. The book concludes with a chapter on motivation.
Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook is $15.95.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.