How Fit Are You, Really? This Test Can Help You Find Out3 years ago | Physical exercise
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
We are quickly approaching the new year. So, many of us may be trying to schedule last-minute doctor’s appointments in order to get a routine physical, hoping we can enter 2019 with a clean bill of health.
Some tests at the doctor you may be familiar with include blood pressure, testing your blood to check cholesterol levels and determining your height and weight to see if you are overweight or obese. And after age 50 (or in some cases even younger), you may undergo cancer screenings. An example of this would be getting a rectal exam to check for colorectal cancer.
If you pass these tests with flying colors, you may think that you are ‘healthy as a horse.’
But what about health tests outside of these routine screenings such as a test to determine your cardiorespiratory endurance?
Also called ‘cardiovascular endurance,’ ‘aerobic fitness’ or ‘cardiorespiratory fitness,’ cardiorespiratory endurance measures “the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles, which allows them to do work or engage in activity,” (UC Davis Sports Medicine).
Cardiorespiratory endurance is basically how well your heart, lungs and muscles work together when you are physically active for a long period of time. And this all depends on the rate at which you consume oxygen during vigorous exercise.
We have discussed before the fact that our need for oxygen cannot be overstated. Not only is it essential for breathing, but our cells use oxygen to help metabolize (burn) the nutrients released from the food we eat as well as for energy.To put your need for oxygen in perspective, you can live for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without oxygen. And one routine way to test the rate at which your body consumes oxygen is to determine your VO2max.
So What is VO2max?
In a nutshell, it is your maximal oxygen consumption during intense exercise. Reportedly, the more oxygen you use during intense exercise, the more energy you can produce.
“This test [determining your VO2max] is the gold standard for determining cardiorespiratory fitness because the muscles need oxygen for prolonged aerobic) exercise, and the heart must pump adequate amounts of blood through the circulation to meet the demands of aerobic exercise,” reports the University of Virginia.
“The gold standard measure of cardiorespiratory endurance is maximal aerobic power (VO2max)—the greatest rate at which a person is able to consume oxygen during sustained, exhaustive exercise. In the laboratory, VO2max is typically measured while a person performs maximal, graded exercise on a treadmill or cycle ergometer,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The types of exercise that depend on cardiorespiratory endurance include distance running, swimming, and cycling. “This fitness component also affects a person's ability to perform, without undue fatigue, less intense, sustained whole-body activities, such as brisk walking, stair climbing, and home chores.”
VO2max is measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed per minute. This measurement is adjusted for body weight in kilograms.
Factors that can influence your VO2max include genetics, age, current training regimen, sex and body composition (percentage of fat, bone, water and muscle in the body). Your VO2max declines with age (about 2% per year after age 30). In general, men have a higher VO2 than women.
Why Should You Care About Your VO2max?
Improving your cardiorespiratory endurance can improve your health in several ways. With good cardiorespiratory endurance, your lungs and heart are able to better use oxygen (which, in turn, may even help you perform routine daily activities like walking, home chores, stair climbing etc). The NIH also reports that improving cardiorespiratory endurance may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, some cancers and premature mortality from all causes.
Furthermore, just because you may appear to be a fit and healthy person (meaning you have no signs of heart or blood vessel disease), having low cardiorespiratory endurance could be a red flag for future problems like heart disease, according to a recent study.
“The researchers found that, in both men and women, the risk of cardiovascular problems fell by 15% for every extra unit of measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness—metabolic equivalents (METs). METs measure the oxygen required for the energy expended on physical activity, with one MET being the amount needed if a person is sitting quietly (3.5 mL of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute), while high exertion such as running would use about eight METs,” according to this report discussing the study.
Study participants consisted of 4,527 fit and healthy men and women with no history of cardiovascular or lung disease, cancer or raised blood pressure. Their VO2max was measured and factors taken into consideration included tobacco use, alcohol consumption, family history of cardiovascular disease, physical activity, weight, height and waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
After an average follow-up time of nine years, results revealed that those with better cardiorespiratory endurance overall had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
"In fact, the participants who were in the 25% of those with the highest cardiorespiratory fitness had nearly half the risk compared to those in the 25% with the lowest fitness levels," said one of the lead researchers.
How Can You Get Your VO2max Tested?
You can look into contacting the cardiology department of the hospital you normally visit or ask your current doctor that you see for routine testing how you can get your VO2max measured. This test is normally conducted by an exercise physiologist. You will be asked to run on a treadmill or exercise on a stationary bike as you wear a breathing mask that is hooked up to a computer. The mask measures how much oxygen you inhale and how much you exhale. Your heart rate will also be kept track of.
And the good news is you can improve VO2max simply by exercising more. If you can only run two minutes on a treadmill, work your way up to five minutes. Just like anything else, you have to practice and build up your endurance. If you have an existing heart condition or health issue, consult your doctor about what exercises are personally best for you.
Fuel & Hydrate
It will be difficult to improve your VO2max if you do not fuel and hydrate properly.
Read here to learn about specific nutrients that may help you reach your fullest potential with exercising and improving your VO2max. And if you want to be as physically fit as possible, it is also advised you take routine nutrient tests. Being nutritionally balanced will help the muscles in your body work the best that they can and help you recover after exerting these muscles. If you discover you have too little or too much of a specific nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to make the necessary dietary changes and possibly recommend quality supplements.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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