VO₂ and Your Well-being: What You Need to Know


If ever you are asked how strong you are, you probably would answer with how many pushups or bench presses you can do or your mile time. And you rarely refer to your body’s capacity to use oxygen, right? But, how the body utilizes oxygen is crucial, and VO₂ max is the ultimate way to determine that. In this article, we will answer some of the common questions.

What is VO₂ Max, and What Does it Indicate?

First, let’s find out what happens when working out. During an intensive activity, your heart and lungs work harmoniously to enable the body to benefit from the exercise. The lungs bring in oxygen when you breathe in, which provides energy to the muscles and removes carbon dioxide. The muscles take up oxygen and can expand and contract easily.

When you exercise, the muscle work harder and therefore uses more oxygen. The more oxygen you can use during intense exercise, the more energy you produce and the better the muscles work. 

Maximal oxygen consumption or VO₂ refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during an intensive exercise per minute. It reflects the body’s ability to transport and use oxygen. 

A high VO₂ Max indicates that the cardiovascular system, the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, can deliver the required oxygen. Furthermore, it shows the body’s capacity to sustain high-intensity exercise for extended periods without experiencing fatigue.

How is VO₂ Measured?

If you want accurate VO₂ max tests, you must visit a medical facility and have a doctor, cardiologist, and fitness specialist do the test. However, today we have fitness watches that can estimate your cardiovascular fitness. VO₂ is measured in milliliters of oxygen/ kg body weight/ minute (ml/kg/min).

Does Age Impact VO₂ Max?

Yes, age can affect aerobic capacity. From age 40 onwards, researchers believe that VO₂ max steadily declines, dropping by approximately 10% per decade. The rate rises to 15% between ages 60 to 75. 

The exact reasons for this phenomenon remain not well understood, but experts suggest that age-related muscle loss plays a role in contributing to the decline. A drop in the maximal heart rate and loss of muscle strength also affect VO₂ max.

You can, however, prevent this decline by maintaining a vigorous training workout regimen.

How Can You Improve VO₂ Max?

Improving your VO₂ max can increase lifespan, better quality of life, improve mood, better sleep, and reduce stroke risk.

You can improve your VO₂ max by increasing the amount of blood the heart can pump, and the oxygen the muscles can take up, and you can do this through:

High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercises like sprinting, followed by brief periods of rest or low-intensity movements and repeating. These cycles challenge the heart and muscles to work at their limits. Over time this will train the heart to pump more blood and your muscles to use oxygen efficiently and increase VO₂ max.

Aerobic exercise

Engaging in running, cycling, swimming, or brisk walking for about 30 minutes, five days a week can increase VO₂ max. 

Progressive overload 

This refers to gradually increasing your workout’s intensity, duration, or difficulty over time. This gradual increase challenges the body to become stronger and more efficient. The body gets accustomed to a certain level of workouts, and you need to keep pushing it harder to continue making progress.

Progressive overload can help increase VO₂ max by consistently pushing your cardiovascular system to work harder during exercise.


VO₂ max is a good indicator of cardiovascular capacity. It is vital to keep track of your oxygen levels even if you are not an athlete and to maintain a higher VO₂ max to stay healthy throughout your life.

Susan Johnson
Susan Johnson
Susan is a retiree who spent her career working as a nurse. Now that she's retired, she's committed to staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. Susan is an avid hiker, cyclist, and yoga enthusiast. She enjoys participating in local community fitness events and volunteering at her local senior center to promote health and wellness among older adults. She believes in the importance of lifelong fitness and wants to inspire her peers to embrace an active lifestyle.

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