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How to Boost your V02max and Why it Matters

Christina Sauder, MS, Clinical Research Program Administrator | Vail Health Behavioral Health

If you've ever glanced at your smartwatch or phone's activity tracker, you might have come across the cardio fitness metric monitoring your VO2max. Despite its obscurity, this metric holds considerable importance. Whether you're a fitness enthusiast or just starting out, understanding and enhancing your VO2max can make a substantial difference in your journey to fitness and longevity.

In this post, we cover:

  1. What is VO2max?
  2. Why it's significant?
  3. How to measure it?
  4. Strategies to improve it.

What is VO2max?

VO2max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise. In simpler terms, it measures your aerobic capacity or how efficiently your body can transport and use oxygen while you're exercising.

Why is VO2max significant?

VO2max is a key indicator of cardiovascular fitness and endurance. A higher VO2max signifies better aerobic fitness, allowing you to perform more intense activities for longer durations without fatigue. It's not only important for athletes; it's also a vital marker of overall health. Research, including studies published in JAMA and JACC, has shown VO2max is one of the best metrics for overall health and longevity. Indeed, lower V02max levels lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and mortality. To put things into perspective, people in the bottom 25% of V02max have 400 times greater risk of all-cause mortality compared to those in the top 2.5%.

How is V02max Measured?

The Gold Standard 
To accurately determine your VO2 max, you'll need to undergo a specialized test in a laboratory setting equipped with the necessary machinery. During a VO2 max test, you'll engage in maximal exercise, typically on a treadmill or bike, while connected to a device that analyzes your exhaled air. This test yields precise data on your oxygen consumption during exercise, establishing the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize. It's considered the gold standard for assessing endurance.

While these laboratory tests offer unparalleled accuracy, they can be costly and are not highly accessible. Cheaper alternatives, like estimating VO2 max through walking tests or using apps on your watch or phone, exist.

Although less precise, these alternatives can still track your fitness trends over time effectively.

One alternative for estimating your V02max is the Rockport Fitness Test, which requires only a track or measured course and a stopwatch. By walking a mile as fast as possible and recording your heart rate immediately afterward, you can use a simple formula to estimate your VO2max.
Easier yet, consider using fitness trackers or smartphone apps. Many modern wearables offer VO2max estimation based on heart rate data collected during workouts.  For instance, in the iPhone Health app's "All Health Data" section, you can locate your estimated V02max under "Cardio Fitness".

Improving Your VO2max

The beauty of VO2max is that it's not set in stone. It is highly modifiable. With consistent aerobic exercise, you can raise your VO2max and boost your overall fitness. Activities like running, cycling, swimming, and HIIT are especially effective at enhancing aerobic capacity. Aim for regular workouts that challenge your cardiovascular system, gradually increasing intensity over time.
Engaging in these activities increases your muscular mitochondria, improving your body's ability to use oxygen and thus enhancing your VO2max.
There's no universally ideal VO2max; it varies based on factors like age, sex, and individual capabilities. However, generally speaking, the higher your percentile rank, the better. This paper provides a table summarizing percentiles by age and sex: Fitness Registry and the Importance of Exercise (FRIEND). Achieving the 75th percentile or higher is a great target to aim for.


So, see where you rank! Find your V02max data on your phone or test yourself and find your percentile. But don’t just stop there, track yourself over time ensuring your scores don’t drop. VO2max serves as a powerful tool in assessing and improving your fitness. By understanding its importance and learning how to track it over time, you can take proactive steps towards optimizing your health and performance.


V02max Table: Fitness Registry and the Importance of Exercise (FRIEND)
JAMA Article:
JACC Article: