Chronological age is but one predictor of health and longevity, and a poor one at that. Substantial evidence suggests that aerobic fitness (otherwise known as cardiorespiratory fitness) is more indicative of disease risk and mortality, but the gold standard of measuring fitness is through a laboratory measurement we call maximal oxygen uptake (or VO2max). This involves a progressive exercise test on a treadmill with increasing grade and/or speed, administered by trained professionals, while the subject wears a mouthpiece (and nose plug) to analyze respiratory gas for oxygen exchange. As you might guess, the utility of this test for the general public is limited by expense and availability, and, for sicker/older adults, can be very difficult to perform.
Researchers from Norway recently circumvented this problem by creating a simple nonexercise model that estimates cardiorespiratory fitness through a series of quick questions on age, gender, exercise patterns, height/weight, and resting heart rate. They then validated the results from a database of almost 40,000 adults that were followed for, on average, 24 years. This method of estimating fitness was indeed effective for predicting all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality. But the best part? Unlike some research that remains inaccessible to the general public, this calculator is available for anyone to use! Check out this online calculator from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to estimate your fitness age. I have to say, after calculating mine, I feel a lot better about my visible aging signs. They’re clearly just superficial battle scars from a life spent exercising my inner youth 🙂
If taking this online fitness test has made you feel less confident about your health, then I point you in the direction of one other new and exciting piece of evidence. Data from a large study of over 55,000 adults, ages 18-100, established the relationship between running behaviors (time, distance, frequency, amount and speed) and all-cause/cardiovascular mortality over a follow-up period of approximately 15 years. Overall, running had an average life expectancy benefit of 3 years. But, interestingly, the mortality benefits of ANY type of running were similar across increasing quintiles of time, distance, frequency, amount and speed, such that weekly running habits as minimal as <50 minutes total, at <6 miles/hour, just 1-2 times/week, sufficiently reduced mortality risk. This finding led authors to conclude that “Running, even 5 to 10 min/day and at slow speeds <6 miles/h, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.” In other words, it’s not how much you do, but just the mere fact of doing, that improves your fitness age.