Last night Gerry Flaherty organised an information session where we learned what is VO2 max. In it, Seán from Health Matters covered the importance of VO₂”, some misconceptions about pace, heart rate and how monitoring your heart rate can lead to a strong 10k after 20 miles of a marathon!
So if you would prefer to skip the science text below, check out the video underneath!
What is VO₂ Max?
VO₂ max refers to how much oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise. If you are looking to improve your aerobic fitness, maximizing your VO₂ max is worth considering. Read on to learn more about what VO₂ max is, how it’s measured, and how you can increase your VO₂ max.
VO₂ max is the maximum (max) rate (V) of oxygen (O₂) your body is able to use during exercise. Oxygen is a critical ingredient in the respiratory process that’s involved in breathing. When you breathe in oxygen, your lungs absorb and turn it into energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP powers your cells and helps release the carbon dioxide (CO₂) that’s created during your respiratory process when you exhale. The benefits are simple: The greater your VO₂ max, the more oxygen your body can consume, and the more effectively your body can use that oxygen to generate the maximum amount of ATP energy.
The greater your VO₂ max, the more oxygen your body can consume, and the more effectively your body can use that oxygen to generate the maximum amount of ATP energy.
How is VO₂ Max measured?
Normally VO₂ max tests are conducted in a medical facility like a lab or hospital by a doctor, a cardiologist, or a specialist in fitness. Seán from Health Matters does this also.
The type of VO₂ max test that’s best for you depends on your level of fitness. Your doctor or instructor may have you do one of the following tests if you’re at a high level of fitness or a trained athlete:
- Astrand treadmill
- 2.4 km run test
- Multistage bleep test
You may do a simple walk/run test on a treadmill if your fitness level is lower.
A ‘Good’ VO₂ max?
VO₂ max depends on a few key factors:
- fitness level
- elevation, such as at sea level or in the mountains
There’s no one “good” VO₂ max that every single person should shoot for. Seán stresses that every person is different and even biological siblings can have very different VO₂ max measurements.
Can You Increase your VO₂ max?
As you get older, your VO₂ max typically declines.
There’s plenty you can do to keep your VO₂ max levels at their highest for your age and desired fitness levels. A 2016 study found that even occasional intense workouts can help improve VO₂ max levels.
Here are some suggestions:
- Perform high-intensity interval training.
- Switch up aerobic activities in a single workout. Start with cycling, then swimming, then running, and so on. Be sure to rest in between each activity.
Related: Benefits of Joining a Running Club
Why increase your VO₂ max?
Based on research into the benefits of VO₂ max, it will help you live longer.
A 2018 study in Frontiers in Biosciencefound that increasing your VO₂ max can improve the delivery and use of oxygen by your body, maintaining your health and physical fitness well into your later years.
There are other daily benefits that you may start to notice within days or weeks of starting to improve your VO₂ max, such as:
- being less exhausted or winded doing activities like climbing stairs
- reducing your stress levels
- boosting your immune system and getting sick less often
VO₂ max is a good benchmark for measuring your aerobic fitness levels because it literally tells you how well your body is using oxygen.
If you’re an athlete who loves cardio, then VO₂ max should be one of your main points for assessing your fitness and measuring your progress over time if you are trying to improve your performance.
VO₂ max is also a strong predictor of your quality of life as you age. It may be worth tracking to find and maintain your VO₂ max score to help you stay healthy throughout your life.
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