Lower your blood pressure, stress and bio age with these 3 steps
Not long ago my Garmin app made me a present. It is a screenshot from the Garmin app at the top of this article. I admit, it made me very happy!
Why you should know your VO2max number?
VO2Max is a number which shows how effectively your body processes oxygen. It is an important health indicator. Recent scientific studies have shown that people with higher VO2max tend to have lower blood pressure. Also high VO2max translates in higher probability of living longer.
Precise VO2Max measurements require special equipment and are usually performed in designated labs. However, over the last few years several sports smartwatch manufactures, Garmin among the few, developed a software which delivers VO2Max number on your smartwatch right after the training session.
UPDATE January 2023: Our blood pressure app BreathNow includes a free 5 min step test which estimates VO2max. This test was developed together with the University of Cambridge.
How do you increase VO2max by 5% in 6 months?
This post shares my three key learnings from growing VO2Max from 52 to 54 within half a year. This increase may seem like an insignificant one, but actually it is a big deal. Here is why:
1. At the time of writing this article I was 56 years old. VO2Max naturally drops with ageing. If you do nothing to stop it of course.
2. I have a certain heart valves condition. Doctors tell me it is not very serious (and I hope they are right ). However, I need to watch closely my max heart rate while exercising and do regular medical checkups. Which I do.
3. I was never big on doing sports. I started exercising seriously only at the age of 48 as a way to address anxiety and high blood pressure which I was diagnosed at that time.
In summary my key learnings from growing VO2Max are the following: exercise properly (HIIT intervals), recover well, breathe slower. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to increase VO2max
To grow VO2Max, you need to exercise in a specific way: spend certain amount of training time at heart rates close to your maximum. It is called VO2Max interval training. Detailed description of these training sessions is out of scope for this article. One of the best and easy to read books on this topic is “Fast after 50” by Joe Friel.
I’ll also recommend everyone interested in this type of training to do a prior medical checkup and have a detailed, heart to heart (so speaking), chat with your doctor. Finding a proper coach or trusted protocol is another good idea.
To avoid distraction I trained on a stationary bike at home. This training mostly included 5 steps of 'all-out' 3 min pedalling with 6 min rest between them. I repeated this training twice per week.
You probably have heard this message often. But how do you know actually if you are well recovered and ready for another hard training session? Give yourself too much slack and you will see your fitness level to deteriorate. Not enough recovery – and your performance will drop.
Subjective feeling is one way of course. However, there is a more scientific approach which over the last few years has become very affordable. It is based on so called Heart Rate Variation (HRV). HRV measures time variability between peaks of heart beats on an ECG chart. If the time between peaks varies a lot, it is usually a signal that our bodies are well rested and ready for a big training stress (higher HRV). If the time between peaks is quite stable, it is usually a signal that we need more time to recover (lower HRV).
I use the word “usually” here, because HRV is dependent on many factors, i.e. prior physical stress, emotional stress, whether you are healthy or sick, how well you rested at night, how much alcohol you consumed the night before etc. It takes time, patient learning and self-observation to learn how to filter out recovery information from the HRV data.
The good news is that there is plenty of affordable software available and you can study your HRV data on a regular smartphone using your phone camera as a sensor. Our app BreathNow includes a free stress monitor which is based on HRV analysis and shows your Total Life Stress (TLS) for the last 30 days.
Breathing to lower blood pressure and improve recovery
I was already a big advocate of breathing exercises for quite some time. Together with physical exercises, they helped me to recover from anxiety and high blood pressure. I also learned from excellent videos of coach Chad Timmerman to focus more on nasal breathing. Scientific data show that inhaling through the nose translates into better oxygen absorption.
Also deep diaphragmatic breathing is big deal for anyone who wants to make their cardio vascular system more efficient and healthier. This type of breathing helps the body to make larger inhales which ultimately translates in higher oxygen consumption.
Our BreathNow app includes different types of breathing exercises which can be done on a smartphone or Apple Watch.
Research shows that exercise is a primary way to stay healthy and energetic as we age. Especially if we balance hard training workload properly with recovery and breathing exercises. I hope this article will encourage others to use exercise to get their health under control. Would love to hear your comments and questions.