I think we all want to live long, but at the same time we may be scared that we might not remain healthy for a long lifespan. You probably have experience with your own family or friends who have health issues when they age. On the other hand, many elderly have a very beautiful life up to a very high age. We can’t stop aging but we can have some control over how it affects us.
Regular exercise, eating whole foods with healthy ingredients, proper hydration, lots of good proteins, and community involvement such as joining group activities and living purposefully, are the recipe for healthy aging and really for all round good health too. Being active and especially engaging in resistance exercises helps with bone density which can prevent falls and lower the risk of joint pain, but increasing muscle mass is also critical for keeping your strength, improving posture, maintaining metabolism, and improving your overall cardiovascular health.
There is one exercise metric that is very important for healthy aging — VO2 max (or maximum oxygen uptake). This is a measure of the total amount of oxygen that your body can utilize during intense exercise and is often considered a key indicator of cardiovascular fitness and endurance performance. It is usually expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min) and serves as a way to assess your body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen for energy production.
Improving your VO2 max involves enhancing your body’s capacity to deliver and utilize oxygen.
To use an analogy, VO2 max is the size of your body’s engine, so the larger it is the quicker it can provide oxygen to your tissues for metabolic function. It’s a popular measurement for endurance athletes for obvious performance reasons but also an important number for all of us. Numbers vary depending on individual factors such as muscle mass, bodyweight, and age, but the same rule applies to everyone that adding longer moderate-intensity cardio exercise to your routine can help build your aerobic base and improve oxygen utilization. Resistance training, while helping you build muscular strength, can also improve overall endurance and your ability to sustain higher levels of effort during exercise.
I wrote about in a recent column that it’s important to build up your cardiovascular strength with Zone 2 training, but then you can start to add interval training — short intervals of 10–30 sec, or brisk walks as fast as you can for 30–60 sec, repeating the intervals 6 to 10 times. Of course it will depend very much on where you start as to how much intensity you can give, but almost any type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be very effective in boosting VO2 max. Consistency in your training is key, in the same way that consistent correct nutrition supports your body’s energy production and recovery. Just make sure to allow your body time to recover between intense workouts, for example 48 to 72 hours between intense sessions.
The normal and healthy range for VO2 max can vary depending on factors such as age, sex, fitness level, and genetics. For older individuals (usually over the age of 60), VO2 max tends to decline due to factors such as decreased muscle mass, reduced cardiovascular efficiency and decreased lung function. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise can help mitigate this decline. The best way to learn your correct number is by consulting a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness expert, but many fitness watches do measure VO2 max now too.
Improving your VO2 max helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improves metabolic health such as balancing blood sugar levels, improving your mood, helping maintain muscle mass and strength, improving cognitive function, reducing the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and maintaining functional independence as you age, reducing the risk of needing assistance for daily activities.
It’s important to note of course that engaging in regular exercise is just one part of a comprehensive approach to healthy aging but VO2 max does serve as a valuable marker of cardiovascular and respiratory fitness. Most importantly you should not wait until it’s too late. Like everything, we may not see the urgency now, but keeping ourselves healthy is essential for enhancing the quality of life as we get older.
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Healthline. “Everything to Know About VO₂ Max.” https://www.healthline.com/health/vo2-max
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Cleveland Clinic. “VO2 Max: How To Measure and Improve It”. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-vo2-max-and-how-to-calculate-it/