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Fitness Within: Implications For Longevity & Quality Of Life

people working out on an exercise matThe appearance of being healthy and fit is most often misrepresented by an immediate judgment on the way we look superficially. Muscular or thinner individuals are often classified as being “fit”, simply based on their visual appearance. In most cases where someone appears to be in good shape, they most likely are, simply because the appearance of being ‘fit’ requires adopting a lifestyle that allows it.

This blog is not about the visual representations of ‘fitness’. It is about the true definition of fitness, one that is less obvious to the eye.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fitness as “the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms.” In simpler terms: if two friends are in love with the same girl, by definition, the fittest of the two friends would win and live longer than the other. Provided the girl is interested, of course.

If a physical confrontation initiates between the two friends, the more physically developed of the two would certainly hold an advantage. But to determine the likelihood of which friend is likely o survive longer is far more complex. Living longer is not a result of one good trait, this the result of many confounding lifestyle and genetic traits.

How Can We Truly Measure Fitness?

To answer this question, let us understand what is most likely to lead to death. In 2020, the leading cause of death in the United States was heart disease. This was higher than cancer, and twice as high as Covid-19-related deaths as reported by the CDC. Within the top 10 leading causes of death,  stroke was number 5, chronic respiratory disease at number 6, and diabetes takes number 8 [1].

What Do Those Conditions Have in Common?

They are all in one way or another, related to our cardiovascular health. The cardiovascular system is responsible for delivering blood through our arteries towards muscles, organs, and other tissues. Cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death, worldwide!

Now that we know that cardiovascular deterioration is the leading cause of death, how can we assess our cardiovascular fitness?

One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to assess our cardiovascular health is by measuring how efficiently the body utilizes oxygen. The gold standard for measuring our ability to utilize oxygen is through a VO2 max test!

VO2 max, also called maximal oxygen consumption, is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can utilize during exercise. The more oxygen a person can use during high level exercise, the more energy that is available to perform physical activity.

What does VO2 max have to do with longevity and quality of life?

It has repeatedly been documented that poor cardiovascular fitness is associated with increased risk in mortality. A large study that looked at 122,007 patients (mean age: 53.4) who underwent cardiovascular testing, found that middle aged persons with the lowest VO2 scores, were at about 50% higher risk of death over the next decade, compared to below average scores! [2].

Performance group classifications by cardiorespiratory fitness

My favourite part of this study was the conclusion that being below average could have tremendous improvements in quality of life, compared to the lowest classification. Further health improvements were made with increased VO2 scores, but the returns are not as dramatic as improving from the lowest category, to the second lowest category.

The Take-Home Message

Fitness cannot be determined by the naked eye. Fitness is in direct association with improved longevity, better quality of life, and decreased risk of cardiovascular-related death. You don’t need to become an athlete to see the benefits, you just need to be, at the very least, below average!

Are you interested in improving your cardiovascular fitness and quality of life? It all starts with a baseline assessment of your VO2 max. Ottawa Health: Performance and Rehabilitation is one of the only facilities in Eastern Ontario that is equipped with state-of-the-art VO2 max testing technology. This test will provide you with all of the necessary information to make changes to your lifestyle and help mitigate the risk of of cardiovascular disease.

Medical Disclaimer:

The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and should not be used for any diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. The information shared within does not create or imply any patient-doctor relationship. Please consult with your primary health care provider before making any health-related decisions. Ottawa Health: Performance and Rehabilitation expressively disclaims responsibility and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained within.

  2. Mandsager, Kyle, et al. “Association of cardiorespiratory fitness with long-term mortality among adults undergoing exercise treadmill testing.” JAMA network open 1.6 (2018): e183605-e183605.

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