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Why should aerobic fitness be measured?

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology highlighted that a lack of physical fitness is second only to cigarette smoking for premature death.

Whilst we have known for many years that cardiovascular fitness is an important lifestyle risk factor, this study is unique due to the length of time the study ran, the number of people involved and the scope of testing performed.

In 1963, 792 randomly chosen “healthy” 50 year old men agreed to participate in this study for the rest of their lives. They were required to undergo a baseline health assessment at the commencement of the program including measures of their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol as well as details of their exercise habits and smoking history. Four years later, aged 54, participants then underwent a maximal exercise test to assess their Aerobic Fitness (Vo2Max).

Vo2Max is a simply a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen an individual can use whilst exercising. The ability to use oxygen is part genetic, but also determined by lifestyle factors. A person who exercises regularly will generally have a higher Vo2Max due to a number of physiological changes that occur due to consistent need for more oxygen to fuel the muscles.

This study then tracked these men for the next 45 years, during that time surviving members completed follow up testing each decade. Tracking of death rates was done through the national registry and cause of death noted for each participant.

Not surprisingly, the study found that smoking had the greatest impact of total lifespan. However, this study also showed that low aerobic capacity was not far behind. During 45 years of follow up, participants with a low aerobic capacity had a 21 percent higher risk of premature death than those in the mid aerobic fitness category and 42 percent higher risk of early death than those men in the highest fitness category.

The study also found that men with higher fitness rates but a poor cholesterol of blood pressure profile, tended to live longer than those with lower fitness rates and a good cholesterol and blood pressure profile.

EHS has performed VO2Max testing using a medical supervised, graded exercise test on a treadmill for the past 20 years. Our database of 70,000 clinical records shows that approximately 26% of participants have a “unacceptable” aerobic fitness rating, 45% were in the “mid” aerobic fitness rating and 18% were in “high” fitness rating.

From self-reported exercise data, it could be seen that 4% of participants reported no exercise and a further 26% reported only light exercise 1-2 times a week (current recommendations 5 times per week).

This study shows that for companies wishing to assess the health of the manager and executive population, the investment in a program that includes medically supervised Vo2Max testing is as valuable as Cholesterol or Blood Pressure testing for the assessment of future ill health.

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