On Cardiovascular Capacity, Health and Fitness

Fitness Assessment is the art of measuring your personal fitness status using tests of cardiovascular capacity, body fat, strength and flexibility.  The Motivation Alliance web site (our gamified health and fitness platform) permits you to enter personal results in all of these areas to see where you stand and to track your improvements.

While it is quite common for people to be focused on body fat, the most important test of the group is actually cardiovascular capacity (otherwise known as VO2Max, aerobic power, or maximum aerobic capacity).  

RunningCardiovascular Capacity is key because, from a total wellness perspective, it is a direct measurement of the health of the cardiovascular system.  Indeed, doctors use a variant of this test when you go in for a cardiac stress test.

So, what is cardiovascular capacity?  Put simply, it is the ability of your entire cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the muscles and for the muscles to use this oxygen to make energy for work.  If your heart cannot pump powerfully and efficiently, if your lungs are not effectively delivering oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide, if your vascular system cannot dilate enough to handle the increased flow, or if your muscles cannot use the oxygen being delivered: all of these things show up in reduced cardiovascular capacity.

We measure cardiovascular capacity by testing your ability to exercise at very high rates.  For example, the gold standard is a treadmill test that simply goes faster and faster at steeper and steeper inclines while a subject is wearing a mask that permits the tester to directly measure the oxygen concentration of inspired and expired air.  The most sophisticated indirect test (one not using gas exchange equipment) uses a similar treadmill protocol but just continues until the subject “gives out” from exhaustion and has to stop.   Using equations to calculate the amount of work being done based on treadmill speed, incline, gender and body weight, we can estimate the volume of oxygen being used.

Because of the difficulty of doing these ‘maximal’ tests, a variety of easier tests have been designed.  One popular way for you to estimate Vo2Max is the one used in the Alliance: simply run or walk one mile as quickly as possible and then enter the time and ending heart rate into the web site or mobile app.  This isn’t quite as accurate as clinical testing but it is almost always a very good estimate.

So, what is a good result for a Vo2Max test?  In part this depends on age and gender.  Age is important because Vo2Max generally declines, on average, by about 10% per decade after the age of 25.  While much of this is due to the fact that people are generally less active as they get older (and thus do not live up to their potential), a decline of about 3-6% per decade appears to be an inexorable fact of aging.

If you have entered values for a Cardiovascular Capacity test and want to know how you did, find your age in the appropriate table below.  The column below your age will show you the range of values found in populations studied by the Institute for Aerobics Research. Obviously, the higher the value, the better you compare against people of your age and gender.  Note that if you have had a formal fitness test from an Alliance coach, your results might be a bit different than what is shown here due to the use of algorithms that can offer greater detail than a decade-by-decade break down.

Cardiovascular Capacity for Men
Rating 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60+
Superior 49.6+ 48.2+ 45.3+ 42.4+ 39.5+
Excellent 45.3-49.5 43.9-48.1 41.0-45.2 37.6-42.3 34.3-39.4
Good 42.4-45.2 39.5-43.8 37.4-39.9 34.1-37.5 30.9-34.2
Fair 38.1-42.3 36.7-39.4 33.8-37.3 31.1-34.0 27.9-30.8
Poor <38.1 <36.7 <33.8 <31.1 <27.9

 

Cardiovascular Capacity for Women
Rating 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60+
Superior 42.4+ 40.3+ 37.5+ 33.6+ 32.3+
Excellent 37.4-42.3 35.4-40.2 33.0-37.4 29.8-33.5 28.0-32.2
Good 34.5-37.3 32.4-35.3 30.6-32.9 28.0-29.7 25.1-27.9
Fair 30.9-34.4 29.9-32.3 28.0-30.5 25.1-27.9 23.7-25.0
Poor <30.9 <29.9 <28.0 <25.1 <23.7

The values shown in this table come from a population of “normal” people studied by the Institute for Aerobics Research. Athletes in endurance sports such as marathon runners and professional cyclists generally have much higher values: in the 60s or even 70s.  Athletes in other sports almost always  have values over 40 (females) or 45 (male) but they do vary widely based to the nature of their sport.

To improve your Cardiovascular Capacity, you generally need to engage in sustained aerobic exercise such as walking, running, cycling, dancing, exercise classes, elliptical training or other activities that raise your heart rate.  While being active is almost always safe, there are a number of reasons why you might want to check with a physician before becoming significantly more active:

  • If you are a male people over 45 or a woman over 55
  • If you have heart disease
  • If you have any pulmonary disease, asthma
  • If you have diabetes, liver or kidney disease
  • If you have orthopedic problems or arthritis
  • If you have any symptom of cardiovascular heart disease such as: shortness of breath with mild exertion or when lying down, ankle edema (swelling), a sensation that your heart is ‘fluttering’ or missing beats, muscle pain on climbing stairs or hills that goes away with rest, dizziness or fainting, pain or discomfort in the chest or jaw when exercising
  • If you have not exercised in over three months,
  • If you suffer from high blood pressure or severe obesity,
  • If you have any other reason to doubt whether exercise would be safe and beneficial.

8 thoughts on “On Cardiovascular Capacity, Health and Fitness”

  1. I found this interesting but it made me wonder if my measurements were accurate.

    1. Hi Bill, we hope you found the article useful. Measuring can be good – it’s tough to know where you’re going when you don’t know where you’ve been.

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