Fitness age a better indicator of longevity

Written by New York Times | New York | Updated: Oct 18 2014, 19:44pm hrs
FitnessFitness age may predict a person?s risk of early death. (Thinkstock)
A new study of fitness and lifespan suggests that a persons so-called fitness age determined primarily by a measure of cardiovascular endurance is a better predictor of longevity than chronological age. The good news is that unlike your actual age, your fitness age can decrease.

The concept of fitness age has been developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who have studied fitness and how it relates to wellness for years.

Fitness age is determined primarily by your VO2max, which is a measure of your bodys ability to take in and utilise oxygen. VO2max indicates your current cardiovascular endurance.

If your VO2max is below average for your age group, then your fitness age is older than your actual age. But if you compare well, you can actually turn back the clock to a younger fitness age. That means a 50-year-old man conceivably could have a fitness age between 30 and 75, depending on his VO2max.

Norwegian scientists decided several years ago to develop an easy method for estimating VO2max. They recruited almost 5,000 Norwegians between the ages of 20 and 90, measured their aerobic capacity with treadmill testing and also checked a variety of health parameters, including waist circumference, heart rate and exercise habits. They then determined that those parameters could, if plugged into an algorithm, provide a very close approximation of someones VO2max.

But while fitness age may give you bragging rights about your youthful vigour, the real question is whether it is a meaningful measurement in terms of longevity.

In a new study, which was published in June in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists turned to a large trove of data about more than 55,000 Norwegian adults who had completed extensive health questionnaires beginning in the 1980s. The scientists used the volunteers answers to estimate each persons VO2max and fitness age. Then they checked death records.

It turned out that people whose calculated VO2max was 85 per cent or more below the average for their age meaning that their fitness age was significantly above their chronological years had an 82 per cent higher risk of dying prematurely than those whose fitness age was the same as or more youthful than their actual age. According to the studys authors, the results suggest that fitness age may predict a persons risk of early death better than some traditional risk factors like being overweight, having high cholesterol levels or blood pressure, and smoking.

- Gretchen Reynolds