What is your fitness age and your life expectancy?

What is your fitness age and your life expectancy?

Authors Hans and Ron are getting a bit older (Hans is 66 years and Ron 62), so they are interested in the positive impact of their training and fitness on their life expectancy. They keep telling each other they’re going to reach 100 years, but can they substantiate that?

Training and in particular running is of course very healthy and in their book The Secret of Running they had previously given an overview of the positive effects of training on health parameters and the risk of diseases.

But Hans and Ron were not entirely satisfied with these general statements.

As many readers will know, Hans and Ron like to quantify everything: how big are these positive effects and how much does your life expectancy increase due to a high fitness? These are, of course, very big questions, which are not easy to answer. We all die once, but when and from what cause, is the Philosopher’s Stone that has been sought since ancient times.

However, it is possible to make more quantitative statements on the impact of fitness by using statistics. Several large-scale statistical studies have been carried out worldwide, demonstrating a quantitative relationship between fitness and the risk of death. Time and time again these studies show that a high fitness leads to a lower risk of disease and death and a (statistically) longer life expectancy.

In this article we will look at a good example of such a study, on the basis of which it is possible to calculate your fitness age. Together with ProRun we developed a handy calculator for that, which allows you to calculate your fitness age and your cardiovascular life expectancy based on your VO2 max.

Next article we will discuss another large-scale study, which also includes the influence of other factors (such as diet, stress, blood pressure, DNA and lifestyle) when calculating your life expectancy.

Finally, in a 3rd article we will also address the question of what the return on investment of training is, so how many hours of additional life expectancy does 1 hour of training actually yield?

The results of het HUNT project

The HUNT studies are a large-scale project of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in which almost the entire population of part of Norway participates (order of 100,000 men and women) and which has been running since the 80s of the last century. Some of the results can be found on a comprehensive and interesting website, www.worldfitnesslevel.org.

The HUNT study has a strong focus on determining cardiovascular fitness and in particular the VO2 max and statistically quantifying its positive health effects. For example, they found that a higher VO2 max had the following positive effects:

  • Lower mortality from cardiovascular disease (21% lower risk at a 5 mg/kg/min increase in VO2 max)
  • Lower all-cause mortality (15% lower risk at an increase in VO2 max by 3.5 mg/kg/min)

In addition, they found positive relationships of higher VO2 max with fewer heart attacks, better lung function, less inflammatory reactions and less headaches.

Models for the VO2 max

A very nice result of the HUNT studies is various models for determining the VO2 max. For example, they found that it is possible to calculate the VO2 max as a function of parameters such as age, BMI (Body Mass Index) or waist size (in cm), resting heart rate (RHR) and the degree of training PA (the latter based on the answers to questions on the training, in particular the duration, frequency and intensity). An example is the following formula, which applies to men:

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

 For authors Hans and Ron, the formula fits very well as their calculated VO2 max with the formula is 59 and 48, while their real VO2 max are 60 and 49 (all numbers in ml/kg/min). We think it’s very special that you can approach the VO2 max with such a simple formula! Also, with the formula you can immediately see what will happen to your VO2 max if you no longer train (then the PA will be 0 and your RHR and your waist size will probably increase). We will come back on this in the article about the return on investment of training in 2 weeks.

Your fitness age

The most interesting result of the HUNT studies is their method to determine the fitness age. That works like this. For the entire population, the following relationships have been determined between the VO2 max and the age:

Men: VO2 max = 63.6-0.393*age

Women: VO2 max = 51.2-0.328*age

These relationships are also shown in the figure below.

Now, if you know your actual VO2 max, you can easily determine your fitness age by determining from the graph at which age your VO2 max is equal to that of the average population. For authors Hans and Ron, the fitness age thus becomes 20 and 40 years, a nice result for men aged 66 and 62!

Your cardiovascular life expectancy

Your fitness age is of course a nice parameters to calculate. For people with high fitness, such as Hans and Ron, the fit ness age will always be lower than the real age. For Hans the difference is a staggering 46 years, for Ron 22 years. Of course this is good news, because all the studies (including HUNT) show that a higher VO2 max (and therefore a lower fitness age) is related to fewer diseases and a longer life expectancy. But how much longer will that life expectancy be?

In this article and in the calculator we take a simple approach: we argue that life expectancy increases with the difference between the real age and the fitness age. We call this the cardiovascular life expectancy. For Hans and Ron, life expectancy is therefore 46 and 22 years higher than the average life expectancy (of 80 years for men and 84 years for women). Hans and Ron could therefore hope to turn 126 and 102 years old, which is what they would sign up for…..

This is, of course, too simple an approach, because in reality your life expectancy is not just determined by your fitness. As mentioned, we will discuss the other factors that determine your life expectancy (such as diet, stress, blood pressure, DNA and lifestyle) next week. As a spoiler alert, we will tell you already that the result will be somewhat lower!

How it works

You surf to the calculator at ProRun.nl. Here you enter your age and your VO2 max. If you don’t know your VO2 max, it’s best to enter a running performance on the www.TheSecretofRunning.com calculator first. With your running performance your VO2 max is calculated there.

ProRun.nl then calculates your fitness age and cardiovascular life expectancy. Just try it!

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’.