How strong are you?
Your VO2 Max number is great clue towards your longevity but is it really the only marker you should be concerned about as you age??
What’s a Good VO2 Max for Me? Your Aerobic Fitness Explained
VO2 max is the number that describes your cardiorespiratory fitness. It’s a single number that captures your heart, lungs, circulatory system, and muscle cells all working independently and together. And not surprisingly, your VO2 max is connected to health, performance and longevity.
At the same time, many people find VO2 max difficult to understand on their Garmin smartwatch. Why? Maybe mixing letters, numbers and abbreviations together makes things look scary and complicated. Let’s skip past that problem for a moment. If you are really interested in fitness, then you will be fine with a funny name.
And in case you were wondering, it is pronounced vee oh two max.
Ask a physiologist about VO2 max and they will explain that it is the maximum volume of oxygen your body can import, transport and utilize in a single minute during intense physical activity. If that rings a bell, then great. You’ve got it and might be ready to scroll down to the VO2 max charts below. There you can instantly see how your VO2 compares to other people of your same age and gender. Otherwise, stick around.
Why VO2 Max Matters
Exercise physiologists have studied how the human body uses oxygen for long time. And the history of VO2 max as a performance metric dates back over a hundred years. Scientists observed that people are always using some oxygen even at rest. Start moving around or exercising and your body starts to use more and more oxygen as the intensity increases.
Why does your body need oxygen? Oxygen is the magical ingredient that makes aerobic energy production possible. That means transforming the energy stored in macronutrients like carbohydrates and fats into fuel for your muscle cells. That is why VO2 max is sometimes referred to as your aerobic capacity. It is also why endurance athletes spend a lot of time working to improve their VO2 max.
To directly measure oxygen consumption, you need to wear a special mask together with a machine capable of analyzing the contents of your respiratory gases. The goal is to measure how much oxygen is in the air you breath in compared to how much oxygen is in the air you exhale. The difference is how much oxygen your body is using.
VO2 max tests are typically performed in a laboratory and involve running on a treadmill. The speed of the treadmill increases gradually until you reach the intensity at which maximum oxygen consumption rate is achieved. It is quite a workout and should only be performed when healthy.
Compatible Garmin watches automatically estimate VO2 max during walking and running activities using a method developed by Firstbeat Analytics. Advanced analytics interpret combinations of heart rate and performance data to reveal your aerobic capacity. This means looking at how quickly you are walking or how fast you are running compared to how hard your body is working to keep up pace. The method can also be used for cycling if you happen to have a power meter mounted on your bike.
Understanding VO2 Max
The first thing to understand is that a higher VO2 max is generally better than a lower VO2 max. A higher VO2 max means that your body is better at taking oxygen from the air and delivering it to your muscles. The more oxygen your muscles can get, the more nutrients you can aerobically transform into the molecular fuel (ATP) that your muscles use to contract and perform. This is important because your aerobic metabolic pathways are by far your most efficient source of energy for your body.
Higher is better than lower, got it. But how high is high enough?
If you are a competitive marathon runner, triathlete, cyclist, or cross-country skier, then the answer is really, really high. Top endurance athletes practically dedicate their lives to improving their VO2 max.
For most people, however, a good VO2 max is understood in terms of so-called normal values. These are the ranges of VO2 max that researchers have identified in the general population. This is where things can get tricky. Similar VO2 max results can mean different things for different people.
A VO2 max of 40 can be excellent for one person, good for another and only poor for a third. What? The missing context here is that the first person is a 28-year-old woman, the second is a 42-year-old man and the last is a 20-year-old male student.
Making sense of VO2 max requires personal context. That is the challenge.
VO2 Max for Men vs. Women
Variation in physical performance between men and women mostly come down to differences in body composition. Research shows that men typically have more lean muscle mass than women. And women tend to naturally accumulate more fatty tissue. Where fat deposits accumulate on the body also varies between men and women. Men tend to store fat around the trunk and abdomen, and women storing more fat around the hips and thighs.
These natural differences in average body composition are important for understanding what your personal VO2 max means. Muscles use oxygen while fat is simply stored energy.
On average, men have higher VO2 max values than women. So for a man and woman with the same VO2 max, the woman will have a better fitness level compared to her peer group.
A top female endurance athlete will almost certainly have a much higher VO2 max than the average male. However, she will likely have a lower VO2 max compared to a top male endurance athlete.
What’s a Good VO2 Max for My Age?
Age is always a tough topic. It is not fun to think about, but our performance tends to get worse as we get older. As humans our peak fitness potential is usually around the age of 20. This is true for both men and women.
From there, fitness typically declines between 5%-20% per decade in healthy individuals between the ages of 20 and 65. Cardiorespiratory fitness losses can be managed through healthy lifestyle choices and regular physical activity. Past the age of 70, fitness levels decline even more quickly.
Several factors contribute to age-related fitness declines. One is the fact that total body mass or weight tends to increase as we get older, but lean muscle mass decreases. Another is that our muscles work less efficiently. This affects the large muscles that power our movement and the heart.
As we get older, our hearts simply cannot beat as fast as when we were younger. The force with which the heart beats to push oxygenated blood to the muscles also decreases.
The good news about VO2 max and aging is that for the most part accelerated fitness declines resulting from sedentary lifestyles can be reversed. This means that with proper care you can improve your fitness and feel younger and more energetic in the process.
Typical VO2 Max Fitness Scores for Men by Age Group:
Typical VO2 Max Fitness Scores for Women by Age Group:
Data reprinted with permission from The Cooper Institute®. For more information, go to www.CooperInstitute.org.
What About My Weight?
Weight management and fitness topics often go together and for good reason. Both are good health indicators and both benefit from healthy lifestyles. When you get your VO2 max from a smartwatch or fitness tracker, the number you see is what exercise scientists call your relative VO2 max.
This simply means that the number you see is how much oxygen you can use per kilogram of body weight in a single minute. That means that your body weight is already factored into the equation.
If you are curious about your absolute VO2 max, you can easily calculate it. Simply multiply the VO2 max shown on your watch by your body weight measured in kilograms.
Based on the article ablove, here’s a bullet list summarizing its key points:
- VO2 max is a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness, representing the maximum volume of oxygen your body can utilize during intense physical activity.
- It’s essential for health, performance, and longevity.
- Garmin smartwatches estimate VO2 max during activities like walking, running, and cycling using advanced analytics.
- A higher VO2 max indicates better oxygen uptake and delivery to muscles, which enhances aerobic energy production.
- VO2 max tests are typically conducted in a laboratory setting, often involving treadmill running.
- Men generally have higher VO2 max values than women due to differences in body composition.
- Fitness levels tend to decline with age, with peak fitness usually around age 20, but regular physical activity can help mitigate this decline.
- VO2 max values vary by age and gender, and Garmin devices provide charts to compare your VO2 max with others in your demographic.
- Weight management is important for overall health, but relative VO2 max already accounts for body weight in its calculation.
- Absolute VO2 max can be calculated by multiplying relative VO2 max by body weight in kilograms.
These points cover the significance of VO2 max, its measurement, factors affecting it, and its relationship with age and gender.
Why does muscle health matter for longevity- or living a longer, happy quality life?
Muscle health plays a crucial role in longevity and overall well-being for several reasons:
- Metabolic Health: Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it burns calories even at rest. Maintaining healthy muscle mass can help regulate metabolism and prevent conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which are risk factors for various chronic diseases and reduced lifespan.
- Functional Independence: Strong muscles support mobility, balance, and coordination, enabling individuals to perform daily activities independently as they age. Maintaining muscle health can help prevent falls, fractures, and disabilities, which can significantly impact quality of life and longevity.
- Disease Prevention: Research suggests that preserving muscle mass is associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). By promoting muscle health, individuals may mitigate the risk of these conditions and potentially extend lifespan.
Measuring Muscle Health: Muscle health can be assessed through various methods, including:
- Muscle Mass: Techniques such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can measure muscle mass directly or indirectly.
- Muscle Strength: Tests like grip strength, leg press, or bench press can assess muscle strength, which is an important component of muscle health.
- Muscle Function: Assessments of mobility, balance, gait speed, and functional tasks can provide insights into muscle function and overall physical performance.
Improving Muscle Health: To enhance muscle health and promote longevity, consider the following strategies:
- Resistance Training: Engage in regular strength training exercises that target major muscle groups. Focus on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and rows to build muscle mass and strength.
- Protein Intake: Consume an adequate amount of high-quality protein to support muscle repair and growth. Include lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, and tofu in your diet.
- Balanced Nutrition: Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to provide essential nutrients for muscle health and overall well-being.
- Adequate Hydration: Stay hydrated to support muscle function and prevent dehydration, which can impair physical performance and recovery.
- Rest and Recovery: Allow sufficient time for rest and recovery between workouts to prevent overtraining and promote muscle repair and adaptation.
- Lifestyle Factors: Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary behavior, which can negatively impact muscle health and overall longevity.
By prioritizing muscle health through proper nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle habits, individuals can enhance their overall well-being, functional independence, and longevity.
What is the best way to improve muscle health with Muscle Protein Synthesis?
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process by which muscle fibers repair and grow in response to stimuli such as exercise, particularly resistance training, and adequate nutrition, especially protein intake. It involves the creation of new muscle protein strands, which contribute to muscle hypertrophy (growth) and repair.
Dr. Donald K. Layman is a prominent researcher known for his work on protein metabolism, muscle health, and nutrition. His research has highlighted the importance of protein quality and quantity in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and promoting muscle health, especially in older adults.
Here are some key findings from Dr. Layman’s research related to building muscle for longevity:
- Essential Amino Acids (EAAs): Dr. Layman’s research emphasizes the importance of consuming protein sources rich in essential amino acids (EAAs) for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. EAAs are the building blocks of muscle protein and play a crucial role in promoting muscle growth and repair.
- Leucine: Among the EAAs, leucine is particularly important for initiating muscle protein synthesis. Dr. Layman’s research has shown that leucine-rich proteins, such as whey protein and dairy products, are highly effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, especially when consumed in conjunction with resistance exercise.
- Protein Distribution: Dr. Layman’s work has also highlighted the importance of protein distribution throughout the day for optimizing muscle protein synthesis and muscle health. Consuming adequate protein at each meal, rather than relying on one large protein-rich meal per day, can help maximize muscle protein synthesis and support muscle maintenance and growth.
- Aging and Muscle Health: In older adults, maintaining muscle mass and strength is particularly important for preserving functional independence and reducing the risk of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) and frailty. Dr. Layman’s research underscores the role of resistance training and protein-rich nutrition in mitigating age-related declines in muscle mass and function.
- Longevity and Muscle Health: While Dr. Layman’s research primarily focuses on the physiological mechanisms of muscle protein synthesis and muscle health, the principles he advocates for optimizing muscle health through resistance training and protein-rich nutrition have implications for promoting longevity and overall well-being.
Overall, Dr. Layman’s research highlights the importance of consuming high-quality protein sources rich in essential amino acids, particularly leucine, and engaging in regular resistance training to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, support muscle health, and promote longevity. These findings underscore the significance of incorporating protein-rich foods and strength training into a balanced lifestyle for optimal muscle function and overall well-being, especially as individuals age.