Exercise and Longevity: The Importance of Improving Vo2 and Vo2max – Matthew Osborn AEP

When it comes to improving our health through exercise, we all know that aerobic exercise is a key component. But how does aerobic training improve our cardiovascular health? And how do we measure it?

Oxygen uptake, commonly known as VO2, is a vital measure when assessing someone’s cardiovascular health- it is the simply the body’s ability to utilise oxygen during physical activity. Vo2 quantifies the volume of oxygen consumed per minute (ml/kg/min). This is an important measure, as it indicates the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems in transporting oxygen to the muscles and the ability of the muscles to utilize that oxygen. Our peak oxygen consumption is our VO2 max, which represents the maximum capacity of an induvial body to take in, transport and utilise oxygen during intense exercise. Vo2 max specifically serves as a key indicator of aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health. It is our maximal aerobic capacity and the higher this value is, this generally correlates with better cardiovascular health and improved endurance performance. So, how do we improve Vo2 and VO2 max?

Aerobic Exercise

Zone 2 Training: Engaging in regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve both VO2 and Vo2 Max. This can include running, cycling, swimming and rowing- anything that involves continuous and rhythmic activities that increase the heart rate and enhance the body’s oxygen consumption over extended periods. This is commonly called Zone 2 training, where we work at 60-70% of our maximum heart rate for long periods, a relatively light intensity. This type of training can lead to a variety of cardiovascular specific improvements including increased cardiac output (the volume of blood the heart pumps per minute), improved stroke volume (the amount of blood ejected by the heart with each beat), and enhanced capillary density in muscle tissues. Additionally, the number and efficiency of mitochondria, the cellular structures responsible for aerobic energy production, are augmented. These changes collectively increase the muscles’ ability to extract and use oxygen, thereby improving overall oxygen uptake.

Interval Training: Another way of improving Vo2 and Vo2max is through interval training, a form of high intensity aerobic exercise that alternates between high-intensity bursts and low-intensity recovery periods. This form of training more so effective in improving Vo2max due to working at close to maximal aerobic efforts.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Sprint Interval Training (SIT) are popular interval training methods, as they are quite efficient in boosting aerobic capacity in a relatively short amount of time.

Why is improving Vo2 and Vo2max important?

Improving VO2 and VO2max yields significant benefits for cardiovascular health. Higher VO2max levels are associated with lower risks of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. Enhanced VO2max contributes to better heart function, reduced arterial stiffness, and improved blood lipid profiles, including lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Furthermore, improved aerobic fitness helps in better regulation of blood glucose levels, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Aerobic exercise also has profound effects on managing and mitigating chronic conditions. For instance, regular aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other respiratory conditions. The anti-inflammatory effects of regular aerobic exercise play a critical role in reducing systemic inflammation, which is a common underlying factor in many chronic diseases.

Importance of VO2 and VO2max for Longevity and Health

Maximizing VO2 and VO2max is crucial for promoting longevity and maintaining overall health. High levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are strong predictors of reduced mortality risk from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Individuals with higher VO2max values tend to have better physical and cognitive function as they age, contributing to an improved quality of life and greater independence in later years.