What is the return on investment of training for your life expectancy?

What is the return on investment of training for your life expectancy?

This article is the last of a triple on the positive effects of training on health parameters and life expectancy.

In the first article we showed that a high VO2 max significantly reduces the risk of premature death from cardiovascular diseases and also from other diseases. We therefore introduced the concept of fitness age and a calculator to calculate it.

A high VO2 max leads to a low fitness age: examples are authors Hans and Ron, who are 66 and 62 years old respectively, but have a fitness age of respectively 20 and 40 years.

To illustrate the effect on your life expectancy, we also introduced the concept of cardiovascular life expectancy, which is equal to the average life expectancy (80 years for men and 84 years for women) plus the difference between your age and your fitness age. For Hans and Ron, this leads to a cardiovascular life expectancy of 126 years and 102 years, impressive results they would like to sign up for….

In the second article we presented an additional analysis of life expectancy, broader than just based on your fitness and your VO2 max. After all, your life expectancy is also influenced by other factors, such as smoking, diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, DNA, lifestyle and psychological factors (feelings of happiness, stress). These factors can be expressed in the concept of biological age. As with fitness age, you can then determine your broader life expectancy, which is equal to the standard life expectancy plus the difference between your age and your biological age. This leads to a broader life expectancy of between 111 and 116 years for Hans and 96 and 102 years for Ron. We closed this article with 10 rules for a healthy lifestyle. If you follow these rules, the chances for longevity are maximized!

Today we will discuss the return of investment of training. As many readers will know, Hans and Ron like to quantify everything: is it possible to calculate how many hours your life expectancy increases per hour of training?

This is, of course, a difficult question. We will show that it is still possible to make a quantitative calculation using the statistics and in particular the results of the HUNT project of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which we also referred to in the first article. Before we go into that, we’ll first look at two other benefits of training, namely for your mental health and your running performance.

The impact on mental health of training: training is fun!!

Runners are positively addicted to their hobby: they love it and enjoy life and running, preferably in the great outdoors. For about 40 years, the two authors of this article have been running together almost every Sunday morning through the beautiful nature of the Utrecht Hills Ridge in the Netherlands. Along the way we search for roe deer, squirrels and birds of prey, enjoy the landscape and talk about work and life.

After such a training of 25-30 km we are tired, but very satisfied and full of ideas and energy! These are the moments when you experience life very intensively and experience strong feelings of freedom and strength. The positive effects of running on our mental state are very broad and diverse and can be summed up with the ancient Roman adage ‘anima sana in corpore sano’: a healthy mind in a healthy body. In the box below, a large number of these positive aspects/experiences are summarized.

Virtually everyone who starts running will experience this particular metamorphosis. You go outside, expose yourself to the elements and experience the pleasure of training in the great outdoors. Your body becomes your friend and you get better and better. While running, the natural hormones endorphins and serotonin are released, allowing you to experience euphoric feelings of happiness (not everyone to the same extent, we have to admit….).

This is also called runners high. There may even be a healthy form of addiction, which is evident from the common phrase ‘a day not run is a day not lived’.

For Hans and Ron, these advantages are the most important: we enjoy the training sessions and we wouldn’t want to miss it. As far as we are concerned, the return of investment of training is therefore infinite!

The impact on training on your performance: training increases your VO2 max!

Most runners train to get better, i.e. to be able to run longer distances and get faster. Training is the perfect way to achieve this. Many manuals and scientific articles draw the following conclusions:

  1. By training an improvement of the speed and of the VO2 max in the order of 5-25% can be achieved. The endurance can even be 10 times greater.
  2. The training effect can be achieved quickly, in a few weeks or months, and also disappears quickly upon termination of the training.
  3. The most important factor in training is the intensity. In order to achieve the greatest possible effect, you need to train near the maximum heart rate (HR max). This can only be done with interval training.

In our book The Secret of Running the basic principles of training, training goals and training forms are discussed in more detail. An example of the effect of training provides the table below from The Secret of Running for the Marathon Man, which we always take as an example in our books:

Hans and Ron are performance-oriented runners, so these benefits of training are very important to us. We want to become and stay as fast as possible and we are very willing to do the training work for that!

The return of investment on life expectancy: how many hours does your life expectancy increase per hour of training?

We get to the heart of this article. We use the results of the aforementioned HUNT study, in particular the formula by which you can calculate the VO2 max

VO2 max = 100.27-0.296*age-0.369*waist size-0.155*RHR+0.226*PA

 Here the waist size is in cm, the RHR is the resting heart rate and PA is the degree of training PA. The PA is determined on the basis of the answers to questions about the level of training, in particular the duration, frequency and intensity.

For authors Hans and Ron, the formula fits very well, as their calculated VO2 max is 59 and 48, while their real VO2 max is 60 and 49 (all numbers in ml/kg/min).

As we showed in the first article, these values of the VO2 max for Hans and Ron lead to a fitness age of 20 and 40 years and to a cardiovascular life expectancy of 126 and 102 years for Hans and Ron respectively.

The high VO2 max and the high life expectancy of Hans and Ron is of course partly the result of the fact that they have been training seriously for 40 years. But what would happen if Hans and Ron stopped training? Then of course their VO2 max and their life expectancy would decrease, but how much? To calculate this, we use the formula above. If Hans and Ron stopped training, their PA would be 0 and their waist size and resting heart rate would probably increase.

In the tables below we calculated the consequences of stopping the training for Hans and Ron:

The table shows that if Hans and Ron stopped training, their life expectancy would go down to 89 and 81 years, so close to the average life expectancy. By stopping training, the life expectancy for Hans decreases by 35 years and for Ron by 21 years. Conversely, we can also say that their training is responsible for an increase in life expectancy by 35 years and 21 years. One year counts 365*24 = 8,760 hours, so the profit in life hours is 306,600 and 183,960 hours.

How much did they have to train for this? Let’s say for the past 40 years and 10 hours a week, that will be pretty close. In total, Hans and Ron have consequently trained ‘only’ 40*52*10 = 20800 hours over the past 40 years. The conclusion is that both Hans and Ron have many more hours of ‘profit’ than they have invested in the training. On this basis, we could say that the return of investment of the training for Hans and Ron is 15 and 9 hours per hour of training, a return of investment that you will not achieve quickly on the stock market!

This is of course too simple an approach, because in reality your life expectancy is not only determined by your VO2 max. In the second article of this series of three we have seen that other factors also determine your life expectancy (such as diet, stress, blood pressure, DNA and lifestyle). If we take this into account, the profit in life expectancy will be somewhat lower, estimated to be 8 years for Hans and 6 years for Ron. The theoretical return of investment of the training would also be somewhat lower, but still remain very positive with 3.5 hours/hour training and 2.6 hours/hour.

The conclusion 

The return of investment of training is very positive: your ‘profit’ in life expectancy is well above the ‘investment’ in training hours. With Hans and Ron, the return of investment is 15 hours/hour training and 9 hours/hour according to the cardiovascular life expectancy and 3.5 hours/hour and 2.6 hours/hour in accordance with the broad life expectancy.

Of course, these are just calculations and no guarantees for the future. But we do believe in the approach and the result that the return of investment is very positive. We are not even talking about the very positive effect on our mental health/joy of life and our running performance! For us, it confirms our intention to keep training forever!

Our book ‘The Secret of Running’ is for sale in our webshop. Also available in German as ‘Das Geheimnis des Laufens’, and in Italian as ‘Manuale completo della corsa’.