VO2 Max, a Longer Life, and Hot Yoga – What’s the Correlation?

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- Jason H, Old Greenwich

Can VO2 max predict a longer life?

Everyone wants to live longer, look younger, and feel better. We’ve been searching for the elixir of life since before de Leon’s expedition for the fountain of youth.

If the medieval alchemists ever succeeded, we’ve since lost the knowledge. However, science has helped us discover we have the ability to exercise our way to a longer life.

Recent research has shown we can decrease our mortality rate with cardio fitness. In other words, cardio can help us live longer. And there’s no better indicator of cardio fitness right now than our VO2 max measurement.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is how much oxygen your body can absorb and use during a workout. The more oxygen you absorb, the more your body can turn that into energy. The energy you create, (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) helps remove carbon dioxide from your blood. The more energy, the more CO2 removed.

And guess what else? The higher your VO2 Max, the more you can do aerobic types of exercises and for longer.

Why should we care about VO2 Max?

Your fitness, and specifically your VO2 Max, correlates highly and significantly to your longevity. Dr. Peter Attia, who studies the applied science of longevity, often discusses the top causes of reduced lifespan. While covid numbers have skewed the charts momentarily, artherosclerosis is the top cause of death in the US. No other disease comes close. Not even cancer.

In layman’s terms, that means the build up of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls is the number one cause of death in the US. And that build up can significantly reduce your age of death.

In other words, control the build up of fats and cholesterol in your arteries, and you live longer.

What in the world does VO2 Max have to do with clogged arteries?

Well, turns out, increasing your VO2 Max helps control the build up of fats and cholesterol in your artery walls. Thus, increasing your VO2 Max leads to a longer life.

How much does increasing our VO2 Max increase our lifespan?

A recent cardiovascular study published by JAMA, suggested some pretty startling results. If you move your VO2 Max from low to below average, you decrease your mortality rate by 50% over a decade, if you start working on it in your 50s. Being below average in cardio fitness can increase your lifespan!

But we can do better than that!

Move your VO2 Max from low to above average, and you decrease your mortality rate by 60% to 70%. And these numbers are statistically significant. In other words, they didn’t happen in this study just based on chance.

What’s more, the study showed decreases in mortality rate associated with cardiovascular AND non-cardiovascular events. Meaning, increasing your cardiovascular fitness reduces your chances of death across the board from things like heart events as well as diabetes, stroke, AND cancer!

Findings like these led Dr. Peter Attia to declare on a recent podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman, “you shouldn’t be arguing about nuances of your diet or supplement regimen if you don’t have your exercise house in order…until your VO2 max is in the 75th percentile…I wish there was a rule that said you couldn’t talk about anything else health related.”

The bottom line – to increase our chances of surviving into our 80s and 90s, we need to have our exercise house in order.

When should you start caring about cardio fitness levels?

Reading through the studies, one of the biggest questions that comes to mind is, when should someone start caring about cardio fitness levels? The short answer is now.

Whatever your age, the time to care about cardio is now.

Our capacity for increasing our cardio fitness maxes out around age 20 – 25. At that point, we peak. Meaning, somewhere between ages 20 – 25, we have the ability to increase our cardio fitness to the maximum it will ever be. And then, we’ll be always working to decrease how much that diminishes over time. So, if you’re in your 20s, you should work hard to increase your body’s capacity for cardio fitness.

However, if you’re over age 25 as most of us at the YogaSol studio are, that’s no reason to throw in the towel. Because you can still keep cardio decline at bay. Maintaining and increasing your cardio fitness at any age will still stave off mortality…and the payoff is HUGE in terms of extra years to live.

How do you measure VO2?

In order to get accurate measurements of your VO2 max, you’ll need to head to a doctor’s or exercise testing office. The experience usually includes exercising on a treadmill while connected to a machine (via mask) that measures your O2 in and CO2 out.

Some fitness trackers measure estimates of your VO2 Max using your heart rate during workouts. They are less accurate, but they do give you a directional indication of whether you are improving your VO2 or not.

What does this have to do with hot yoga and hot pilates?

I think we can all see how increasing cardio fitness helps extend our lives. But can hot yoga and pilates really increase our lifespan? In other words, what does VO2 Max have to do with hot yoga and pilates?

Of course hot yoga and pilates aren’t the only ways to increase cardio fitness and our VO2 Max levels. But they’re a great tool and one we love to use.

Here’s how you can use hot yoga and pilates to increase your VO2 levels and lower your mortality rate, so you can live longer with better physical function as you age.

  1. HIIT training. Dr. Attia suggests several strategies for increasing cardio fitness. One is interval training in zone 5 of your cardio ability. Dr. Attia says you don’t have to spend too much time training in this area. This should be all out exertion with intervals of rest between. The suggestion is 1 to 2 times per week. Our pilates classes are focused on HIIT activities with intervals of high intensity exercises followed by periods of rest. Come join a pilates class once or twice a week.
  2. Low-end aerobic activities – zone 2 cardio. Zone 2 cardio includes your highest level of exertion before you start to accumulate lactate. The non-geeks in the audience just heard, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s okay, we’ll translate. In other words, zone 2 cardio is where your heart rate is up slightly, but you can probably hold a conversation without breathing too heavily. Dr. Attia suggests zone 2 cardio 3 to 4 times per week. He also mentions he doesn’t think you can do too much zone 2 cardio. So, hey, come practice zone 2 cardio with us every day if you like. Most of our yoga classes fall into the zone 2 cardio category.
  3. Stability work every day. Dr. Attia says one of the first functions that suffers in our bodies as we age is our stability and balance. The data shows significant morbidity and mortality concerns within a year of falling and breaking a hip. And we know there’s almost no better exercise for stability and balance than yoga and pilates. So, coming to the studio combines your cardio and stability and balance into one workout.

Hear more about Dr. Attia’s suggested weekly workout regimen for longevity here.

  1. Heat training to increase VO2 levels. Several pub med studies have shown that heat acclimation improves VO2 performance in aerobic activities. The heat acclimation in these studies took place around 40 degrees celsius (or 120F). And just one week of heat acclimation translated into increases in VO2 max of 5% – 8%.

In one of our previous articles, we wrote about heat exposure reducing cardiac events. And in those studies, the more frequently the participant exposed themselves to heat, the more they reduced their rates of cardiac events.

Read more details on the benefits of heat to your physical well-being here.

Since we combine heat with every practice, you get the health benefits of heat every time you come to the studio.

Who knew yoga and pilates could increase your lifespan? Well, I’d say many of our members had an idea this was true. But now science proves it too. So come join us today.

Adding just one HIIT training each week can improve your cardio fitness and therefore your longevity. A consistent practice will help you feel better, age better, and live longer. 🖖

Download our example class schedule for longevity here.

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