Often people start an exercise program with the primary goal of losing weight. But of course, improving your fitness also has important general health benefits. But do you know how big these benefits are?
The American Heart Association has reviewed many studies of how fitness affects people’s health and found that a low cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality attributable to various cancers, including lung and breast cancer and cancers of the colon/digestive tract. Several studies have also linked higher levels of fitness to a reduced risk of developing both dementia and Alzheimer disease.
Importantly they found that you do not need to be highly fit to gain health benefit from improvements in fitness. Indeed, numerous studies have now demonstrated that more than half the reduction in all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality generally occurs when moving from the least fit group to the next least fit group. For many people, this can be achieved by routine, moderate-intensity exercise. So, you don’t need to go from being a couch potato to an Olympic athlete to get large health benefits.
The Australian exercise guidelines for adults between 18 and 65 are:
Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
Do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
But how do you measure and track your cardio fitness? The best measure is something called VO2 max. This is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. So, a higher VO2 max is a good thing: it means that your body can take in more oxygen and deliver it to your muscles, enabling you to carry out activities at a higher intensity for longer. These can be sports activities, but it also applies to everyday activities like walking carrying groceries, vacuuming your carpets, climbing stairs etc.
Measuring VO2 max accurately is difficult and needs to be carried out in a sports performance lab. But there are easy ways to get an estimate. One popular method is to measure how far you can walk/jog/run in 12 minutes. This is called the Cooper Test and there is an equation which converts the distance you have achieved to VO2 max.
Other measures of your cardio fitness are how quickly your pulse rate falls after intense exercise and your resting heart rate.
In a future post, I will explain how you can measure and use these parameters to track how an exercise program is improving your fitness. It may be good to set some goals based on these measures to motivate you to keep doing your exercise program.
But the best motivation should be that you are doing something that has a measurable, positive effect on your health and if you can improve your fitness you are reducing the risk of being affected by some of our most deadly diseases.
What you should do now
I have been where you are and I have women all over the world (just like you) transition to eating a plant-based diet. If you are looking for a guide to help you find the healthiest way to eat, check out these blog posts it is a great place to start.
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