If you want to measure your fitness level, then your aerobic capacity is a good place to start.
If you get winded climbing stairs or chasing after your kids, then chances are you need to train your heart and lungs and engage in more cardiovascular fitness.
A recent paper in Circulation Research shows the better your aerobic capacity, the better your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Basing their research on studies performed on rats, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s KG Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine examined the relationship between aerobic exercise capacity and survivability.
Low aerobic exercise capacity is a strong predictor of premature morbidity and mortality in both healthy adults and people with cardiovascular disease. In the elderly, poor performance on treadmill or extended walking tests indicates proximity to future health decline.
Laboratory rats of widely varying genetic backgrounds were bred for low or high intrinsic treadmill running capacity. Rats from multiple generations were followed for survivability and assessed for age-related declines in cardiovascular fitness, such as peak oxygen uptake, myocardial function, endurance performance and change in body mass.
The study found that the average lifespan of rats with innate low exercise capacity was 28-45% shorter than for rats with an inborn high exercise capacity. Likewise, the peak oxygen uptake measured across adulthood was a reliable predictor of lifespan.
As they transitioned to old age, rats with an inborn low capacity for exercise had worse cardiac health by multiple measures (left ventricular myocardial and cardiomyocyte morphology, mean blood pressure, and intracellular calcium handling in both systole and diastole). Moreover, rats with high innate exercise capacities had better sustained physical activity levels, energy expenditures, and lean body mass with age than their low-capacity cohorts.
Since the rats came from a wide variety of backgrounds, the results provide strong evidence that innate capacity for exercise can be linked to longevity, thus aerobic exercise capacity can prove useful in future exploration of the mechanisms behind cardiovascular disease.
It is recommended that as adults you get 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise four to five times a week. This could be any aerobic activity that involves the large muscles of the legs known for driving up your heart rate. From walking to martial arts, choose an activity that you know you can commit to and one that you enjoy.
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). “Intrinsic aerobic exercise capacity linked to longevity.” ScienceDaily, 30 Sep. 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.