Most of us are used to referencing our blood pressure, blood sugar levels, pulse and breathing rates as the main indicators of our health. However, in more recent years, studies have also started to pick up on the importance of using our aerobic fitness as an equally important vital sign. As it turns out, aerobic fitness does not just speak to how physically fit we are but can also be used to gauge other factors of our health that we will be covering below. Before we begin, however, let us first talk about what it means to be aerobically fit.
What is aerobic fitness?
Also known as cardiorespiratory fitness, aerobic fitness is the level at which our heart, lungs, and muscles work together to deliver oxygen to the rest of our body when we exercise for prolonged periods of time. This means that the higher our aerobic fitness level, the more capable our body will become at delivering oxygen to our tissues. The most common indicator of this is often how long we can go and how easily we tire when we perform aerobic exercises like running, swimming, and cycling. In this sense, aerobic fitness levels are a good indicator of how physically fit and healthy our bodies are, though this is certainly more to this than what meets the eye.
Why is it helpful to know our aerobic fitness?
Our aerobic fitness levels provide us with more than the general information of our current state of health and fitness. In fact, the American Heart Association found that aerobic fitness levels are excellent indicators of our risk of heart disease and early death and may even be better than other standard risk factors such as smoking, obesity, cholesterol, and high blood pressure1. Having a better understanding of our aerobic fitness can therefore give us a better gauge of our personal health when we compare it against age-matched averages. In turn, we have a better idea of what we should be working towards, spurring us to live healthier and move more. Longstanding research has shown that the simple act of working on our cardiovascular fitness can bring about a whole host of health benefits, including lowered blood pressure, better heart health, stronger immune system, moderation of blood sugar levels, better mental health and much more. So no matter where we may be with our aerobic fitness, knowing where we currently stand can only help us do better.
How can I measure my aerobic fitness?
Aerobic fitness is typically measured by our maximum oxygen intake (VO2 max). This is essentially the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during intensive exercise. In this sense, having a higher VO2 max level means that our body is capable of using more oxygen when exercising, which in turn indicates that both our body and cardiorespiratory system are functioning efficiently.
Generally, VO2 max levels tests are administered in hospitals, clinics or laboratories by a clinician or exercise physiologist, though this may seem like too much of a hassle for some due to various factors such as cost and convenience. In this case, there are various free online tools that can provide us with a rough estimate as to what our aerobic fitness levels are. As compared to actual VO2 max tests, these tools lose out in terms of accuracy, but they do serve as a useful gauge of our current aerobic fitness levels and can be used as a good starting point if you decide to discuss the results with your doctor.
Over to you
If you are concerned about your aerobic fitness levels, the best thing that you can do - other than knowing where you currently stand - is simply to find more opportunities to stay active. Varying the cardiovascular activities that we engage in, for instance, can keep things fresh as we continue our fitness journey. This can not only help us discover new interests but can also prevent our body from adapting too quickly to any one type of training - making it all the more effective. No matter how you choose to go about it, the important thing is to work out how you can make it a sustainable habit by figuring out a routine that fits you and your lifestyle.
1. Ross, R., Blair, S., Arena, R., Church, T., Després, J., & Franklin, B. et al. (2016). Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.