HealthSpan Wellness

Dr Tyler Shippel, BSc, ND

VO2 max is a lab measurement of aerobic capacity and cardiovascular fitness.

In my undergraduate exercise physiology classes, I remember being strapped up to a mask and hose, reluctantly responding to questions by group members, and trying not to drool! The process can be uncomfortable, but most mathematical equations to predict this value outside of the lab setting have been poor. Since cost and time requirements make it difficult for clinics to provide the service, this measurement is often not completed in primary care.

However, in recent years, larger studies have allowed for easier predictive calculations of VO2 max, which is exciting. Equations can also be used to develop prognoses in specific populations, such cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease.

A calculation called the “FRIEND equation” (below) uses physical statistics to predict Vo2 max. Among all variables measured, the most significant are age, sex and weight. The standard of error is only +/- 7 points in comparison to direct VO2 max testing in a lab setting, which is quite good. There are other performance-based calculations, but are a little complex for this post.

  • VO2max (ml/kg/min)= 79.9 – (0.39 x age) – (13.7 x sex) – (0.127 x weight)
    • Age is in years
    • Weight is in pounds
    • Sex is given as Male = 0, Female = 1
    • Standard error of the estimate = 7.2 ml/kg/min

Your fitness tracker may be using this equation to calculate your ‘cardio fitness’ score.

This is not a perfect model, since the only variable that can be modified is weight. However, it can provide good insight. There are lab measured averages established for the general population. If you are even just slightly above the average (50th percentile) you can improve your lifespan, improve cognition through later years, and reduce your risk of early mortality by up to 60-70% in comparison to the low end of Vo2 max (below 25th percentile).

Aside from weight loss and exercise, there are other ways to optimize VO2 max.

The HELANA Study (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) found that people who consumed larger portions of vegetables and fermented dairy products had improved VO2 max. Research has also shown that antioxidant supplementation can improve VO2 max, even in elite athletes.

A VO2 max average for Canadians based on age and sex can be found in the link below. See where you match up to your fellow Canadians based on the FRIEND equation provided 

If interested in learning more about VO2 max, direct testing options, or other ways to improve cardiovascular fitness this summer (hiking Mount Kilimanjaro??) reach out to HealthSpan!!