VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can take in, deliver and use in one minute. It is measured as “milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.” This measure is considered one of the best indicators of a person’s cardiovascular fitness. An athlete with a high VO2 Max for example, has a healthy heart and lots of oxygenation occurs in the body during exercise as a result. High VO2 Max athletes also have higher counts of mitochondria to process oxygen and lots of enzymes to help carry away waste products.
VO2 Max is limited by the general condition of your lungs and circulatory system as well as the amount of oxygen the muscles can extract from the blood. VO2 Max declines an estimated 1% per year with aging. However, with regular exercise and proper aerobic training, the trend can be slowed and even reversed for a period of time. Although your heredity has a lot to do with your endurance ability, scientists have determined that you can influence your endurance by working with a trainer.
A person’s VO2 Max can be determined in a number of different ways. At New Horizon Medical, we employ a sophisticated Cardio Coach Plus machine in conjunction with a treadmill. During the test we connect a heart rate monitoring device around the chest region and place a special mask over the nose and mouth which allows the person being tested to breathe in room air and exhale into the Cardio Coach Plus machine for analysis. The total amount of air exhaled plus the exact amount of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen are determined.
During the graded test, the exercise intensity is progressively increased while measurements are being recorded. ( Individual’s who are not considered healthy and may have respiratory or cardiovascular problems should not take the traditional VO2 Max test but may consider a sub-maximal test which stops at the anaerobic threshold and avoids the peak effort zone.) As the graded test moves from easy to moderate, you are performing aerobically. As the test moves to a hard effort you start to switch from aerobic to anaerobic processing causing you to breathe harder and faster. Continuing to push past this point will cause lactic acid to accumulate in your muscles. This point is what defines your anaerobic threshold.
Once an individual knows their anaerobic threshold and an exercise specialist has made a full fitness assessment, the specialist can then create and exercise plan to achieve the next level of fitness meaning a higher VO2 Max. VO2 testing can usually be completed for about $150 and takes from 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish.