What is VO2 Max?
VO2 max (also known as maximal oxygen uptake or simply VO2) is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can consume during exercise. It is typically measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). It is widely accepted as the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and endurance capacity. It is widely used by sports scientists, coaches, and athletes to monitor training, evaluate performance, and predict success in endurance events.
A high VO2 max is associated with better endurance and overall fitness, and it is generally considered to be a sign of good health. However, it is important to note that other factors such as muscle fiber type, lactate threshold, and efficiency, also play a role in endurance performance.
How is VO2 Max measured?
VO2max is usually measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).
You can view your VO2 Max on your smart watch. For example if you have an Apple Watch, then:
Step 1. Open the Health app on your iPhone, then tap Browse.
Step 2. Tap Heart, then tap Cardio Fitness.
Step 3. Tap D, W or Y to view your average for the Day, Week or Year.
Step 4. Tap Show All Cardio Fitness Levels.
Step 5. Tap a cardio fitness level to compare your results to other levels based on your age and sex.
If your VO2max is below average for your age group, your fitness age is older than your actual age and vice versa. If you have a good capacity for aerobic endurance, you might be much younger than your driver’s license says. A 30-year old can have a fitness age between 20 and 79, depending on VO2max.
Why is VO2 Max Important?
VO2 max is important because it is a measure of the body's ability to transport and utilize oxygen during physical activity. Oxygen is essential for the production of energy in the body, and the more oxygen a person can consume, the more energy they can produce. A higher VO2 max is associated with a better cardiovascular fitness and endurance capacity, which can lead to improved performance in endurance activities such as running, cycling, and swimming.
Additionally, VO2 max is also a marker of overall health, as a low VO2 max is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve VO2 max, and a higher VO2 max is generally considered to be a sign of good health.
Survival of the Fittest: VO2 Max and Lifespan
Cardiovascular fitness has a shocking impact when it comes to your chances of dying, your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease and to a lesser extent your chances of dying from cancer. In fact, research shows that your chances of dying significantly lower with even a minimal improvement in your fitness level.
In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers sought to answer whether a better-than-average fitness endurance capacity translated to a longer lifespan. They studied the cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) level of over 5,000 men, who average 49 years old at the beginning of the assessment, with a single measurement of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max)—a measure of how much oxygen your body can take in and use during exercise—and compared that number to mortality rates nearly five decades later. They discovered that participants in the highest five percent range of VO2max lived about five years longer than those in the bottom five percent.
In a study, published in JAMA Oncology, individuals with low VO2 max scores were shown to be at greater risk of heart disease, and specific types of cancer. The study tracked almost 14,000 men over a period of 38 years to determine the correlation between aerobic fitness and serious health complications.
The good news is that – unlike your actual age – you can lower your fitness age with the right kinds of activity. There are plenty of ways to work on boosting your VO2 max, such as adding HIIT workouts, track sessions, and tempo runs to your routine. If you are concerned about your VO2 max or how to improve it, see a healthcare professional or PT.