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Written by: Anna Sparks
What exactly is this elusive VO2 Max, why is it important to know, how is it measured, and how can you improve your VO2 Max? VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen you can consume that goes to the working muscles. In short, we need oxygen to survive and perform daily living activities, not just during exercise. If we want to use oxygen more efficiently by measuring VO2 Max, we can establish our baseline. Then, we can plan VO2 Max improvement activities around nutrition, movement, and breathing.
Knowing our VO2 Max measurement demonstrates how well your heart and lungs are working together. A higher VO2 Max is correlated with a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease. That last statement alone should show the power of taking this measurement, whether you are an athlete or someone just seeking overall health and wellness. Think of your VO2 Max score as your overall health baseline.
VO2 is measured using graded exercise testing protocols. The person tested exercises using a treadmill or an upright bicycle through stages of increasing resistance. A comfortable mask is placed on their face that collects their expired gases. A heart rate monitoring device is worn to track how the heart responds to increases in exercise intensities throughout the test. The gas exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide) and heart rate are analyzed and reported.
Knowing how critical VO2 Max is to our human functions and testing it are the first two factors to understand. The third is how to improve our VO2 Max. What should you do to improve the most critical function of improved human performance?
Did you automatically jump at more exercise for your answer? Most people do because we all know that movement increases our respiratory and heart rate, which would make sense that it would also increase our body's ability to utilize oxygen, right? More movement IS necessary! However, before just piling on the exercise activity, another component should be addressed! Even before increasing movement, it is essential to target nutrition. Improvements in daily nutrition can protect against the inflammation that causes pain, fatigue and potential injuries, which all make you not really want to move your body.
The missing component to the VO2 Max story, after nutrition and exercise, is proper breathing. Learning how to utilize your breath (diaphragmatic breathing) better increases lung volume capacity. Our lungs' exchange capability also helps control stress and anxiety, another excellent way to increase VO2.
To improve VO2 Max begin by adjusting daily nutrition to manage your body's inflammation. Moving our bodies daily is also critical in developing a higher VO2 max. Improvement in our breathing techniques directly helps improve our utilization of oxygen. Understanding the proper intensities in which to move your body can also be determined from VO2 max testing. Establish VO2 Max, first. Then develop a personalized exercise plan to generate continuous improvement.