4 Ways to Improve Your VO2 Max (and 5 reasons you might want to)

True or false:

  • Aerobic fitness only matters for elite athletes. 
  • Those fancy numbers often displayed on fitness trackers surely don’t mean much to the average person.
  • You should only seek to improve your cardiovascular fitness for training purposes. 

If those statements were all on a test, you would’ve written the word “false” next to each one! 

Cardiorespiratory fitness levels, or your VO2 max levels, certainly aren’t just information vital to athletes. In fact, knowing these levels and improving them can be the key to a long and healthy life!

So, let’s look at what these levels are called, how to increase them, and how those increases can benefit you


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What Is VO2 Max?

VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use while you exercise. 

Your VO2 max can tell you just how fit your body is and if you’ve improved your physical fitness over a length of time when measured throughout training. 

Your muscles require oxygen to keep your body going for extended periods of time during physical activity (endurance). And, your heart is tasked with pumping appropriate amounts of blood to carry the oxygen needed to meet this requirement. 

The greater the amount of oxygen that you can use during intense exercise, the greater the amount of energy your body can produce during that activity.

So, determining your VO2 max involves measuring the amount of oxygen (mL) you use in one minute per kilogram of body weight. The number derived from this measurement tells how much oxygen you’re using when exercising at your hardest. 

Many fitness trackers can assess your VO2 max level, as can testing done through your doctor. 

The average 40 year old male VO2 max scale ranges from under 30.2 (very poor) to over 48.0 (superior). 

The average 40 year old female VO2 max scale ranges from under 21.0 (very poor) to over 36.9 (superior). 

If you’re an avid runner seeking to improve your endurance, or a serious athlete looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness, knowing your VO2 max can be crucial in your efforts to improve your fitness abilities.

But, does this measurement only matter to athletes and their performance during their preferred physical activity? 

Absolutely not! 

Your VO2 max can tell you a lot about the overall health of your body. 


How Is VO2 Max Tied to Health And Wellness?

Healthy cardiorespiratory fitness capabilities can affect many areas of your body. 

While VO2 max levels have been considered the “gold standard for measuring cardiovascular fitness levels,” research suggests that these measurements can determine your risk factors for all causes of mortality. 

Cognitive Benefits
Cognitive decline, such as what is seen in conditions like vascular dementia, is caused by a narrowing or blockage of blood vessels leading to the brain. 

Cardiovascular exercise causes new cells and blood vessels in the brain to grow. 

Improvements in VO2 max levels have been associated with cognitive benefits like: 

  • improved thinking capabilities
  • performance improvements regarding memory
  • improved motor skills
  • improvement of time management skills
  • better organizational skills on tests
  • an improved ability to give attention to detail  

Studies have also shown that individuals with a high VO2 max show better connections throughout various regions of the brain. 

Live Longer
The American Heart Association states that a low VO2 max puts you at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and some cancers (breast, lung, and gastrointestinal). 

Some consider your VO2 max, often referred to as your fitness age, as a better indicator of long term health and lifespan than your actual age. 

Research suggests that a 10% increase in your VO2 max can decrease your risk for all causes of death by 15%. 

And, a higher VO2 max may actually be a better predictor of health than traditional factors such as weight and cholesterol. 

Decrease Stress
Studies show that individuals with a higher VO2 max experience less physiological stress and can better handle stresses that do arise. 

Increasing cardiorespiratory fitness levels are also associated with decreases in anxiety and depression. 

And, regular physical activity (which can improve your VO2 max) is directly correlated with improved mental health and feelings of personal well-being.

Improved Quality Of Life
Your day to day quality of life improves when you increase your VO2 max. 

Simple tasks like going up and down stairs, bringing in your groceries, keeping up with energy-filled children, and keeping up with a busy schedule in general can all be done with greater ease when you improve your cardiovascular respiratory fitness. 

Each and every physical task that you do throughout your day requires energy. In the same way that we described the measurement of VO2 max in physical activity earlier, this process occurs within your body when you need energy to perform any physical daily task. 

Your muscles require oxygen to expend energy. Your heart pumps oxygen through your blood to supply it to your body as you do any physical activity…yes, even carrying laundry up and down stairs. 

Improves Immune And Respiratory Health
Increasing your VO2 max can make you less likely to get sick, and improve your overall health, by giving your immune system a boost. 

Studies have shown that improving cardiorespiratory fitness also improves the function of both the immune and respiratory systems. 

Increased aerobic capacity increases the levels and function of immune cells and can actually restore lung tissue and strength by acting as an antibiotic and an antioxidant! 


What Can You Do To Improve Your VO2 Max?

Now that we’ve seen the benefits to your overall health and well-being that come with improving your VO2 max, how exactly can you achieve such increases? 

Now that we’ve seen the benefits to your overall health and well-being that come with improving your VO2 max, how exactly can you achieve such increases? 

1- Continuous Training

Many coaches and trainers believe exercising at 90-95% of your maximum heart rate is the best course for improving your VO2 max. 

This method improves the strength of your heart muscle thus increasing the amount of blood your heart can pump with each beat. 

2- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

High intensity interval training is a type of exercise characterized by brief periods of intense activity followed by brief periods of rest within a given workout (like this 9-minute fat-burning workout I created). 

Some studies have shown that exercising in this manner provides slightly more consistent VO2 max improvements than exercising at a constant high intensity.

3- Ironman Training

You don’t have to actually be training for an Ironman race to incorporate this method of improving your VO2 max. The principle of ironman training is what we’re after here. 

Changing up the aerobic activities that you do in a single session can benefit your VO2 max levels. 

In an ironman, participants typically start with swimming, switch to cycling, and then switch again to running. 

You can incorporate this kind of variety in your exercise sessions to improve your cardiovascular respiratory fitness. 

4- Increase For Increase

If exercise is already a normal part of your daily routine, you may already be reaping the benefits of a healthy VO2 max rate. 

But, you can increase your aerobic fitness (and your VO2 max) by increasing the following in your exercise sessions:

  • increase the duration of your workouts
  • increase the intensity of your workouts
  • increase how often you workout

If you’re new to fitness, the good news is that increasing your VO2 max will happen easily as you get started. 

Consider starting with a walking regimen to begin, and then you can increase speed, intensity, and duration over time. 

Then, as mentioned above, add high intensity interval training exercise sessions, switch up your aerobic activities within a single session, or workout at your maximum heart rate to boost your VO2 max. 

(Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program if you are new to working out.)

And if you’re looking for a workout that incorporates all of the above (for FREE), follow this 3-movement full body toning workout.

It’s an easy way to tone your entire body in just 3 movements using the 3x Method (the workout i used to lose over 100 lbs). The good news is…

You can try this 3-movement workout (3 minutes each) for free through this link…

>> 3 Min Full Body Toning Workout

To your health,

Nate Hopkins





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