[SB 206] VO2 to the max, dude
I’m Matt, and welcome to Steady Beats. If you like to walk for a better life, and also like Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” you just might like this newsletter.
Hi all! It’s a VO2 max deep dive this week. What is it, why should we care, how do we improve it at midlife? Let’s dig in.
VO2 to the Max
What is VO2 max?
I asked ChatGPT to explain VO2 max to me like we are in the year 1985:
High VO2 max means you're a total fitness superstar, with a stamina that can go on and on, just like those timeless tunes on the radio. It's all about endurance, dude! And let me tell you, if you want to be the king of the dance floor a high VO2 max is the way to go!
So, get out there, pump up the volume, and let your VO2 max take you to new heights of fitness in this rad year of 1985! Keep the workout vibes alive, and you'll be feeling like a real fitness superstar, man. Stay groovy!
I don’t recall constantly shouting in 1985. Was it super loud then? All the boomboxes, maybe? And I never said “groovy.” Not even once.
Anyway, here’s a less interesting, but more useful, definition:
VO2 max (also known as maximal oxygen uptake) is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense exercise. It is considered one of the most important indicators of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. VO2 max reflects how efficiently your body can take in oxygen, transport it through the bloodstream, and utilize it at the cellular level for energy production during physical activity.
So VO2 max is a measure of aerobic efficiency.
Why should we care about VO2 max?
Besides the obvious benefits of cardiovascular fitness, a higher VO2 Max correlates to a longer and healthier life. A 2018 study of over 120,000 participants found that the higher a person’s VO2 Max, the less likely they were to die from any cause.
And that’s any natural cause, not just heart disease. Cardiovascular fitness is a powerful protectant. A free miracle drug, even. Much like muscle mass.
How do we measure VO2 max?
If you want a precise measurement, you need to go to a doctor’s office, lab or fitness center that offers an exercise-based test.
But an Apple Watch will approximate your VO2 Max. And honestly, for most of us, an approximation is good enough.
What’s a “good” VO2 Max?
That depends on age and gender. Here are a couple of charts from Healthline.com:
So what’s yours, hot shot?
According to my Apple Watch:
As I’m very close to age 50 at this point, I’m slotting myself into the “excellent” category, thank you very much.
Pretty good. Could be better.
More volume—and mixing up workouts—would help. Some cycling or swimming, for example, to supplement my normal jogging routine.
How do we improve VO2 Max?
To get into “elite” range (a VO2 max of 50 or higher for men) it takes a lot of training time at middle age.
But why think about a VO2 max of 50? That’s so high! Alan Couzens, a physiologist and fitness performance coach, thinks 50 is the point where protective effects really kick in:
Here’s what Couzens says the volume needs to look like, in middle age, to achieve a Vo2 max of 50 or higher:
That’s a lot of volume.
I’m doing 5-7 hours a week of jogging, plus two hours of strength training. And that’s enough, for now. Strength training is also very important to me—and having muscle mass is also very protective for our health—and I’m not willing to give that up.
The main takeaway
A healthy VO2 max is a strong protectant against diseases that want to kill you. Get out there, and let’s do our Zone 2 work.
Thank you for reading.
Let’s keep the Steady Beats going. 💚
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