By Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
VO2max can be used to predict a person’s risk of premature death from a heart attack. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have developed a simple way to estimate a person’s VO2max, his maximal ability to take in and use oxygen (Med Sci Sports Exerc, November 2011;43(11):2024-30).
The researchers had 4,637 healthy adults, average age near 50, run to exhaustion on a treadmill and measured their VO2max (a complicated test that measures oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations). They then developed a formula that correlated very well with the subjects’ actual VO2max, based on their
- sex and age,
- exercise habits,
- resting heart rate and
- waist circumference.
VO2max Predicts Fitness Age
Now the researchers have figured out the average VO2 max for a healthy person at every age from 20 to 90 and used these numbers to calculate fitness age which predicts how long a person is expected to live. Their Fitness Calculator is available (free) at http://www.ntnu.edu/cerg/vo2max
Enter your answers to the simple questions: How often do you exercise? How long? How hard? Your age? Waistline? Resting heart rate?
The calculator quickly gives you your estimated VO2max and your fitness age.
Vigorous Exercise Slows Aging
Studies from all over the world show that intense exercise helps us maintain fitness. People who do not exercise lose 15 percent of their fitness per decade, those who exercise at low intensity lose 9 percent, while those who exercise intensely barely lose any fitness at all.
Increasing intensity makes you more fit. If you go out and jog the same two miles at the same pace every day, you will not improve and you will not be very fit. However, if you go faster on one day, feel sore on the next day, go slowly until the soreness disappears, and then go fast again, you will become more fit on every measure of fitness, and also perform better on the tests that measure aging.
However, with increased intensity comes increased risk of injury. Before you start an intense exercise program, and before you start lifting heavier weights, running faster, jumping higher, throwing further, hitting a tennis ball harder, or doing anything that requires increased intensity, check with your doctor.
The only problem with this recommendation is that the odds are overwhelming that your doctor won’t know very much about sports, training, or improving physical fitness. But you should at least check with him or her to see if you have any condition that could be aggravated by hard exercise.