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  • Writer's pictureDmitri Konash

Want to live longer? Run faster!

Updated: May 28, 2023

What is VO2Max, why it is a key predictor of longevity and how to increase it.


VO2max and longevity are increased with short intensive exercises like running

It has been known for decades that breathing and physical exercise are great for your health. Not only they help to lower anxiety and high blood pressure, but also increase health of our cardiovascular system.


Why VO2max is an important indicator of longevity?


Over the last 10 years several scientific studies have shown that an indicator cardio fitness, or VO2Max, is a key predictor of longevity [1], [2]. The higher VO2Max number – the higher our chances to live longer.


One research of Swedish scientists [1] on 792 men started in 1963. They split participants into three groups based on their VO2Max numbers and followed on them over the years. The research has found that each tertile increase (move from lower to high VO2max group) in predicted VO2 max was associated with a 21% lower risk of death over 45 years of follow up. Or rephrasing statistics data: 10% increase in VO2Max can reduce all-cause mortality risk by 15%.


Another research [4] shows that people who are more physically active experience less anxiety and stress and are more resilient to the impacts of stress when it does arise. Also, strong cardiovascular system generally translates into lower blood pressure.

What is VO2max?


With a bit of simplification: Vo2Max shows a maximum amount of oxygen consumption per minute by someone’s body at the peak of aerobic performance. It is usually expressed as a relative rate in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute ( mL/(kg·min)). It is the generally accepted measure of aerobic fitness and allows to compare aerobic fitness of different people.


The generally accepted test to measure VO2Max is done either while running on a treadmill with gradually increasing speed or while cycling on a stationary bike. A special device compares the composition of the air breathed out and derives VO2Max number. Over the last few years a number of sports smartwatches which can measure speed and heart rate also provide their owners with an estimation of VO2Max. Bases on my own experience with Garmin smartwatches they provide VO2Max estimation with 90% accuracy as compared to a lab test which is sufficient for most people.

It is important to note that the max potential VO2Max number is heavily dependent on our genetics. That’s why some people are born to be better athletes than others, especially in sports which require higher aerobic performance like running, cycling, swimming or cross-country skiing. At the same time VO2Max decreases at a rate of about 10% per decade - that is if we do nothing to keep it higher for longer. Here is the graph from the American College of Sports Medicine which illustrates the point.


VO2max chart by American College of Sports Medicine

People with long exercise history, i.e. lifelong endurance athletes, have higher VO2Max numbers as compared to sedentary subjects (see graph below) (1). Upper dashed line corresponds to men, lower dashed line – to women.


How to increase VO2max?


In order to grow VO2Max one needs to exercise hard: run, cycle or swim for a short period of time at the maximum of your capacity. Then give yourself plenty of time to recover [5]. In sports language it is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Detailed procedures of interval training are beyond the scope of this article. The best clear and simple description of these procedures I found in the book by Joe Friel [3].

Can you increase VO2max if you are over 50?


Definitely! At the time of writing this post I am 59 and I am working hard on recovering my VO2max which was reduced significantly after I got infected with COVID. The work is still in progress by early improvements can be seen in the graph below.

How to recover VO2max and longevity after COVID

Guided exercises to improve VO2max are a part of our 3in1 Program to lower blood pressure, stress and biological age. You can follow these exercises and measure your progress in our app BreathNow. Most of the functions are free. Give it a try and let me know how they worked for you. Stay healthy!


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