What you fitness age says about how long you may live.

A new study of fitness and lifespan suggests that a person’s so-called fitness age -determined primarily by a measure of cardiovascular endurance, is a better predictor of longevity than chronological age.

The concept of fitness age has been developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of science and technology in Trondheim. A new study of fitness and lifespan suggests that a person’s so-called fitness age -determined primarily by a measure of cardiovascular endurance, is a better predictor of longevity than chronological age. Fitness age is largely a measure of the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen compared with the average of people with the same chronological age; someone with above average cardiovascular fitness would have a “younger” fitness age, as a result. The good news is that unlike your actual age, your fitness age can decrease.


Fitness age is determined by your VO2max, which is a measure of your body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen. VO2max indicates your current cardiovascular endurance. It can also be used to compare your fitness with that of other people the same age, providing you, in the process with a personal fitness age. If your VO2max is below average for your age group, then your fitness age is older than your actual age, but if you compare well, you can actually turn back the clock to a younger fitness age. Meaning a 50 year old man could have a fitness age between 30 and 75, depending on his VO2max.


Knowing your fitness age could be instructive and perhaps sobering, but it also necessitates knowing your VO2max first, which few of us do. (Precise measurement of aerobic capacity requires high tech treadmill testing, which most of us don’t have access to or any interest in doing.) Since measurement of aerobic capacity is unavailable to most of us, the Norwegian scientists performed testing on over 5,000 norwegians between the ages of 20 and 90, measuring their aerobic capacity and checking a variety of health parameters. They determined that the parameters could provide a very close approximation of someone’s VO2max. The scientists then turned to a large amount of data collected on more than 55,000 norwegian adults. They found that those with a fitness age significantly above their chronological years had a much greater risk of dying prematurely than those whose fitness age was the same as or more youthful than their actual age.


Fitness age may give you bragging rights about your youthful vigor, but the real question is whether it is a meaningful measurement in terms of longevity. Will having a younger fitness age add years to your life? Does an advanced fitness age mean you will die sooner?

The study suggested that fitness age may predict a person’s risk of early death better than some traditional risk factors like being overweight, having high cholesterol levels or blood pressure and smoking.

Of perhaps more immediate interest, the scientists used the data from this new study to create an online tool for calculating fitness age. It asks simple questions like age, gender, waist size and exercise routine and if you’re not happy with your fitness age, it can be altered. All you have to do is exercise, any type and amount of exercise should help increase your VO2max and lower your fitness age, potentially increasing your lifespan.

The idea of your cardiovascular health affecting the length of your life can be a little overwhelming, but it can also be exciting. The idea that we get some say in how long we live or at least a shot at making the time we do have better is empowering and motivating! It’s all about our choices when it comes to living and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. If it means adding more years to our life, adding a few more hours of activity to our week or skipping the fast food becomes a much easier decision.


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