What is VO2 Max?
VO2 max tells us the amount of oxygen consumption we can utilize per minute, generally speaking, the more oxygen we can utilize the better our cardiovascular fitness.
VO2 max is often synonymous with world-class endurance athletes, Nordic skiers, Tour de France, triathletes and marathon runners but it’s actually incredibly useful for the rest of us non-professional athletes.
VO2 max testing is a vital component of our Fitness Lab testing here at the UPMC Sports Surgery Clinic as it gives a wealth of information about your health, fitness and wellness.
Our VO2 max and cardiovascular fitness has a direct relationship to our overall health and mortality, in fact apart from smoking it is one of the most important factors impacting our mortality and quality of life.
This is especially important if we have physically or mentally demanding work. A study conducted in Copenhagen found that having a higher VO2 max protected against cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality for those in a physically demanding role. Even more interesting was the fact that you only have to be moderately (VO2 max: 30-37 ml.kg) aerobically fit to get all of the advantages (Holterman, 2010).
VO2 max also has a significant relationship to cancer risk. A Finnish study followed 2226 males with no history of cancer for 16 years found that:
- VO2 max of > 33.2 ml. kg resulted in 27% less chance of getting cancer and a 37% reduction in cancer mortality.
- 2 hours of moderate exercise reduced cancer mortality by 26%.
- Improved VO2 max decreased risk of lung, gastrointestinal and prostate cancer.
These benefits are also not just for males. Improved physical activity and cardiovascular fitness are associated with lower breast cancer risk in females and could be especially preventative if started at a younger age (Thune, 1997) and decreased risk of lung and colorectal cancer (Marshall, 2019).
Interestingly this also holds true of Dementia. Males and females who had moderate to high fitness demonstrated significant reductions in dementia risk:
- For every 3.5 ml. kg of oxygen improves there is a 14% reduction in the likelihood of dementia mortality
- Moderate and high cardiovascular fitness groups had a greater than 50% reduction in Dementia mortality
Lastly not only does improvement in VO2 decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia there is a significant correlation with reduced depression symptoms in both males and females who have at least moderate fitness (Tolmunen, 2006, Sui, 2008).
This demonstrates the significant impact that cardiovascular fitness can play on your health not just now but later in life.
All businesses want a resilient workforce and often as employees, we are looking to achieve success and improved performance at work. Cardiovascular fitness has been shown to improve mental resiliency and help you to perform under stressful environments such as public speaking and mentally taxing tasks but also prevent burnout (Gerber, 2013).
The amazing thing about improving your fitness is that is relatively simple and easy. Unlike other tasks such as losing body fat, building muscle or running a fast 5km building fitness is all about just starting.
Research tells us that in older populations who have been aerobically training for 50 years that they have full capillarization and skeletal muscle enzymes, similar to that of younger adults.
Furthermore, the research suggests that this is independent of intensity, so just doing some aerobic training consistently is the most important factor (Gries, 2018).
Whilst doing just some aerobic training is good over the long term, for those who want to improve their VO2 max in the short term, there are multiple ways of doing so.
For those who are busy, short on time but still want to make significant improvements it is very hard to see past high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Recent studies have shown that 60s work followed 75s rest for 10 repetitions can improve VO2 max by 9.9% on average in just 5-weeks (DeRevere, 2021).
Whilst continuous aerobic exercise is most definitely effective, multiple studies have shown that interval exercise to a high intensity elicits similar results in less time even for experienced endurance athletes (Daussin, 2008, Rossmando, 2020).
Here at the SSC, we can offer you our Fitness Lab package which looks at all components of your strength, cardiovascular fitness and health or we offer stand-alone VO2 max testing on equipment of your choice.
Luke Hart is a Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach and Fitness Lead at UPMC Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry.
Daussin, F.N., Zoll, J., Dufour, S.P., Ponsot, E., Lonsdorfer-Wolf, E., Doutreleau, S., Mettauer, B., Piquard, F., Geny, B. and Richard, R., 2008. Effect of interval versus continuous training on cardiorespiratory and mitochondrial functions: relationship to aerobic performance improvements in sedentary subjects. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 295(1), pp.R264-R272.
De Revere, J.L., Clausen, R.D. and Astorino, T.A., 2021. Changes in VO2max and cardiac output in response to short-term high-intensity interval training in Caucasian and Hispanic young women: A pilot study. PloS one, 16(1), p.e0244850.
Eriksson, J.S., Ekblom, B., Andersson, G., Wallin, P. and Ekblom-Bak, E., 2021. Scaling VO2max to body size differences to evaluate associations to CVD incidence and all-cause mortality risk. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 7(1), p.e000854.
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Holtermann, A., Mortensen, O.S., Burr, H., Søgaard, K., Gyntelberg, F. and Suadicani, P., 2010. Physical demands at work, physical fitness, and 30-year ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality in the Copenhagen Male Study. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, pp.357-365.
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Liu, R., Sui, X., Laditka, J.N., Church, T.S., Colabianchi, N., Hussey, J. and Blair, S.N., 2012. Cardiorespiratory fitness as a predictor of dementia mortality in men and women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44(2), p.253.
Marshall, C.H., Al‐Mallah, M.H., Dardari, Z., Brawner, C.A., Lamerato, L.E., Keteyian, S.J., Ehrman, J.K., Visvanathan, K. and Blaha, M.J., 2019. Cardiorespiratory fitness and incident lung and colorectal cancer in men and women: Results from the Henry Ford Exercise Testing (FIT) cohort. Cancer, 125(15), pp.2594-2601.
Russomando, L., Bono, V., Mancini, A., Terracciano, A., Cozzolino, F., Imperlini, E., Orrù, S., Alfieri, A. and Buono, P., 2020. The Effects of Short-Term High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate Intensity Continuous Training on Body Fat Percentage, Abdominal Circumference, BMI and VO2max in Overweight Subjects. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 5(2), p.41.
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Tolmunen, T., Laukkanen, J.A., Hintikka, J., Kurl, S., Viinamäki, H., Salonen, R., Kauhanen, J., Kaplan, G.A. and Salonen, J.T., 2006. Low maximal oxygen uptake is associated with elevated depressive symptoms in middle-aged men. European journal of epidemiology, 21(9), pp.701-706.