What is the Best Fitness Indicator for Living Another 10 Years?

VO2 max is the answer. What is a VO2 max? Mayo Clinic explains that VO2 is measured as the uptake of milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute.

Basically, VO2 is to runners as a max (maximum) bench press is to a lifter. Just like the max bench press, the greater the VO2 number, the more cardiovascularly fit you are.

Mayo Clinic shows various VO2 measures for certain activities.

  • Cooking dinner: 7
  • Brisk walking: 15
  • Climbing stairs: 22
  • Jogging (5 mph): 25
  • Running (8 mph): 41

I have performed metabolic assessments measuring athletes VO2 and exceptional athletes typically will measure at 60+. When you are looking at professional cyclists for example, they measure into the 80s and a few will measure in the 90s.

Why is the VO2 so efficient at predicting 10-year survival rates?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), for over 80 years, the leading cause of death of Americans has been heart disease. So, if you can measure a person’s heart efficiency, you can now make predictions based on the data.

The Mayo Clinic explains:

The best predictor of survival in cardiac patients is their capacity for exercise,” says Thomas Allison, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, who is from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “When we considered all of the measurable clinical variables — such as whether they had bypass surgery or whether they have diabetes or high blood pressure — the patient’s capacity for exercise as measured by VO2max stood clear as the best predictor for 10-year survival.”

In this study, the significance of low VO2max levels was examined in patients with coronary artery disease — the top cause of death in the United States and often a precursor to a heart attack and heart failure.

A group of 282 patients, 17 percent of them women, underwent cardiopulmonary treadmill testing at the end of cardiac rehabilitation and were followed for an average of 9.8 years. The average age was 61 at the time of the test.

In the first two years there were few deaths, but after that mortality was significantly higher in patients with low VO2max. Fifty-five patients had a low VO2max (less than 18 ml/kg/min); at 10 years, almost half (42 percent) had died. Of the 227 patients who had a VO2max above or equal to 18 ml/kg/min, only 11.6 percent had died at the 10-year mark. Even after adjusting for age, *** and ventricular function, VO2max was a strong predictor of mortality.
“It remains to be seen whether improving VO2max through better medical care or surgical intervention versus weight loss and a better exercise program will be the key to improving survival, but we suspect both are important,” he says.

How can you improve your VO2 max?

Many people think you just need to engage yourself in cardiovascular exercise (running, biking, etc). While your VO2 will improve, it will not improve as effectively and dramatically as utilizing sprints or High Intensity Intermittent Exercise (HIIT) into your workout. In a cycling study, researchers compared the results of 45 untrained women who engaged in steady state exercise (SSE)exercise vs. HIIT. What they found out what very telling. The SSE group worked out for 40 minutes and improved their VO2 by 19.3%. The HIIT group worked between 5 and 20 minutes and improved their VO2 by 23.8%. The HIIT was better by 4.5% and the workout were completed in less than half the time.

What can you do for sprints or HIIT?

Sprint on a bike, rower, stair climber, treadmill, or even outside. After completing a thorough warmup, sprint almost as fast as you can (about 85-95% intensity) for approximately 30-60 seconds. Take approximately 2+ minutes off to recover. You can just rest between sets or simply move at a very slow speed. When your time is up, repeat with the same intensity. Keep in mind, fatigue may be setting in therefore your distance may compromised. That is okay. Perform 6-10 of these sprints. At the end, you should be truly whipped from your workout. Besides knowing you are improving your VO2 more than SSE, you did it in half the time. Now you have time to do whatever else your heart desires.

What are you to do?

Find out what your VO2 is. Not only will it inform you as to what type of shape your are in but it may actually predict if you will live another 10 years from now. If you find out your VO2 is not optimal, incorporate sprints or HIIT in your lifestyle 2-3x per week. The study above showed a 23.8% improvement in 15 weeks. That's 15 weeks, not years! Changes can happen. You just need the knowledge of what to do. Your life may depend on it!

For information on 1-on-1 Personal Training or Nutrition Coaching, feel free to contact me at szahn@lifetimefitness.com.

Steven Zahn
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Pre and Post Partum Certified
Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified