VO2 Max by Age – Aerobic Fitness Across the Age Spectrum

VO2 Max by Age – Aerobic Fitness Across the Age Spectrum

When we strive for optimal health and fitness, this comes with some scientific terms that we need to comprehend – one of these important terms, especially for athletes and sports enthusiasts, is the VO2 max. Your VO2 max, the measurement of how much volume of oxygen your body is capable of utilizing during intense activity, depends on your age, gender, and fitness level. The VO2 max is an important indicator of your health and fitness that changes as you grow older. In this article, CARE will explain this significant health term, showcase how to optimize your VO2 max and give you a clear overview of VO2 max ranges by age.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in General Health
8 min read · Feb 09, 2024

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What Is VO2 Max?

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Your VO2 max (“Volume Oxygen Maximum”) measures the maximum volume of oxygen your body can utilize during high-intensity exercise. [1] The term is also referred to by maximal oxygen uptake and indicates your aerobic fitness, where a higher VO2 max signifies superior aerobic capacity.

Are you not quite sure how your body utilizes oxygen in the first place? Let us take a quick look at that.

During exercise or any physical activity, your body utilizes oxygen by delivering it through the bloodstream to your muscles, where it's used to produce energy for muscle contractions. This oxygen-fueled process, known as aerobic metabolism, converts nutrients into energy, enabling sustained physical activity and endurance. Your VO2 max reflects how efficiently your cardiovascular and respiratory systems work together to supply oxygen to your muscles. [3]

So, in a nutshell, your VO2 max is an indicator of your cardiorespiratory fitness, reflecting how well your heart, lungs, and muscles work together during exercise. But what does the VO2 max have to do with age?

The VO2 max and age are closely intertwined. As your age increases, your VO2 max typically decreases, signifying a decline in aerobic capacity and overall physical fitness.

Maintaining a high VO2 max is associated with better cardiovascular health and cardiorespiratory fitness, as it indicates a strong and efficient heart and lung function, which is crucial for your overall well-being. [2]

Therefore, knowing about a healthy range of VO2 max by age is essential to optimize your aerobic fitness and stay healthy as you grow older.

What Are Average VO2 Max Values by Age Range?

CARE has prepared two lists illustrating the average VO2 Max values by age range and gender. These lists provide a general idea of what constitutes a good VO2 Max for different age groups. [4]

VO2 Max Values for Women (ml/kg/min)

20 to 29 years old:

  • less than 30: poor
  • 30 to 40: good
  • more than 40: excellent

30 to 39 years old:

  • less than 28: poor
  • 28 to 38: good
  • more than 38: excellent

40 to 49 years old:

  • less than 26: poor
  • 26 to 36: good
  • more than 36: excellent

50 to 59 years old:

  • less than 24: poor
  • 24 to 34: good
  • more than 34: excellent

60 to 69 years old:

  • less than 22: poor
  • 22 to 32: good
  • more than 32: excellent

70+ years old:

  • less than 20: poor
  • 20 to 30: good
  • more than 30: excellent

VO2 Max Values for Men (ml/kg/min)

20 to 29 years old:

  • less than 35: poor
  • 35 to 45: good
  • more than 45: excellent

30 to 39 years old:

  • less than 33: poor
  • 33 to 43: good
  • more than 43: excellent

40 to 49 years old:

  • less than 31: poor
  • 31 to 41: good
  • more than 41: excellent

50 to 59 years old:

  • less than 29: poor
  • 29 to 39: good
  • more than 39: excellent

60 to 69 years old:

  • less than 27: poor
  • 27 to 37: good
  • more than 37: excellent

70+ years old:

  • less than 25: poor
  • 25 to 35: good
  • more than 35: excellent

Please note: Your VO2 max values are influenced by body weight and overall physical fitness. Higher fitness levels and optimal body weight and body composition can lead to higher VO2 max values.

How Is VO2 Max Measured?

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These days, many smartwatches like the Apple Watch calculate your approximate VO2 max.

To uncover your VO2 Max more precisely, a fitness test known as VO2 max testing gauges how much oxygen your body can use during intense exercise. During this test, you engage in progressively more strenuous physical activity, such as a walking test or a more intensive fitness test, while your oxygen consumption is measured using a mask or mouthpiece to analyze the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your breath. [1]

Imagine yourself on a treadmill or a stationary bike, where the intensity gradually ramps up. Here, your oxygen consumption is meticulously measured, typically in milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of your total body mass. As you push yourself, a heart rate monitor simultaneously tracks your heart's performance, capturing both your resting heart rate and its peak, your maximum heart rate. [2]

This test isn't just about endurance; it's a deeper dive into how effectively your body utilizes oxygen at its limit, giving you a VO2 max score. Think of this score as a reflection of your aerobic prowess, influenced by your regular physical activity and your body composition (lean muscle mass and fat). [1]

A higher score suggests you're more adept at aerobic tasks, a sign of top-tier cardiovascular fitness. Your VO2 max is like getting a personal efficiency rating for your lungs and heart, offering a unique insight into your fitness.

Why Is the VO2 Max Important?

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The VO2 Max is a key indicator of your cardiovascular fitness, and it is even considered a strong predictor of cardiovascular mortality and all-cause mortality. [2] [3] The American Heart Association highly regards the VO2 max for its effectiveness in assessing the efficiency of your heart and lungs. [5]

When you receive your VO2 Max results, they tell you how well your body uses oxygen during intense exercise – a vital aspect of your overall fitness. If you're an endurance athlete, perhaps a skier or cyclist, a high VO2 Max indicates your superior aerobic conditioning, crucial for your success and progression as a professional athlete.

But the VO2 max is not just important for athletes. Regardless of your passion for fitness and sports, understanding and improving your VO2 Max can be a game-changer.

A good VO2 Max score is inversely related to your risk of cardiovascular disease, meaning the higher your VO2 Max, the lower your risk of heart-related health issues. [1] [2] By enhancing your VO2 Max through consistent and targeted exercise, you're not just chasing a number but actively contributing to a healthier heart and a stronger, more resilient body.

This makes the VO2 Max a vital component in your quest for better health and fitness, transcending beyond mere athletic performance to a broader realm of overall well-being.

How Can You Improve Your VO2 Max? — HIIT vs. Cardio

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To improve your VO2 Max, engaging in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a highly effective strategy. HIIT training programs involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods, which push your body to adapt and increase its oxygen uptake capacity. [6]

Cardio (cardiovascular exercise) is also an excellent workout choice for increasing your VO2 max. While HIIT focuses on short bursts of intense activity followed by rest periods, traditional cardio workouts like running, cycling, swimming, and rowing offer a different approach. Cardio sessions involve sustained, moderate-intensity exercise that challenges your cardiovascular system over time.

Both HIIT and cardio workouts effectively enhance cardiovascular fitness, but they do so in their unique ways. For instance, a 30-minute brisk run provides continuous aerobic conditioning, gradually increasing your VO2 max. HIIT delivers similar benefits through shorter, more intense intervals.

But which one is better? Should you use HIIT or cardio to improve your VO2 max?

Interestingly, a study has found that the largest increase in VO2 max occurred during a 10-week training program consisting of six workouts per week, where the participants performed HIIT training intervals and continuous running (cardio training) on alternate days. [7]

Biologically, as you consistently challenge your aerobic threshold through these workouts, your heart becomes stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, and your muscles enhance their ability to utilize oxygen.

Over time, incorporating such workouts into your regular training program will gradually raise your VO2 Max, improving your overall cardiovascular fitness. [6]

We have curated some of our favorite HIIT workouts to improve your VO2 max:

  1. Cycling Intervals

    On a stationary bike, pedal as hard as you can for 2 minutes, then switch to a moderate pace for 3 minutes. Repeat this cycle for 30 to 45 minutes. This boosts your leg strength and significantly enhances your cardiovascular system's efficiency.

  2. Hill Sprints

    Find a steep hill, sprint for about 30 to 60 seconds, and then walk back down for recovery. Do this 5 to 10 times. Hill sprints are excellent for building power and improving the maximal oxygen uptake.

  3. Tabata Workouts

    Perform an exercise like burpees, jump squats, or kettlebell swings at maximum effort for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this cycle for 4 minutes (8 rounds). Tabata is a form of HIIT that is particularly effective for increasing your VO2 Max.

  4. Swimming Intervals

    Swim one lap as fast as possible, then do two laps at a slower, steady pace. Repeat this for 20 minutes. Swimming is a full-body workout that greatly enhances lung capacity and oxygen usage.

  5. Rowing Machine Intervals

    Row at high intensity for 1 minute, followed by 2 minutes of slow, steady rowing. Continue this pattern for 30 minutes. Rowing effectively engages multiple muscle groups, thereby increasing overall oxygen consumption.

  6. Circuit Training

    Create a circuit of exercises like jumping jacks, push-ups, and lunges. Perform each exercise for 1 minute at high intensity, then rest for 30 seconds before moving to the next exercise. A 20-minute session can significantly push your aerobic threshold.

How CARE Helps You to Improve Your VO2 Max

As a CARE member, you profit from regular health check-ups in our modern practice, where we not only assess your VO2 max but also give you a comprehensive insight into your individual health status. In a personal consultation with one of our healthcare providers, we will give you tailored suggestions and guidelines to improve your fitness and health.

Understanding and improving your VO2 Max is not just about enhancing your athletic performance; it's a vital component of your overall health and well-being as you grow older.

Your VO2 Max is a clear indicator of your cardiovascular fitness, and it naturally decreases and changes with age. As you improve your VO2 max, your heart, and muscles adapt to become more efficient at using oxygen. This improves your endurance and fitness level and significantly lowers your risk of cardiovascular diseases

Taking charge of your preventive healthcare with CARE by focusing on improving your VO2 Max is a proactive step towards a healthier life. It empowers you not only to track and enhance your physical fitness, but also to safeguard against potential health risks in the future.

By incorporating these insights into your fitness regimen, you're not just chasing a higher score; you're embracing a lifestyle that prioritizes your long-term health, ensuring you stay active, robust, and healthy for years to come.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!