How fit am I? How do I test my fitness?

Two useful questions to know the answer to. There are different ways to quantify fitness and therefore different approaches to get fit. In a broad sense, being fit means being in a healthy state of mental and physical health. But for most of us, when we ask “how fit am I?”, we are more likely to be referring to our cardiovascular fitness. Am I fit enough to run a 5K? Could I do an IronMan? Am I fit enough for my skiing holiday? Am I fit enough to chase my kids around the park?

Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) describes how well the body can take in oxygen, deliver it to the working muscles and utilise it to produce energy during exercise. CRF is a useful diagnostic and prognostic health indicator. It is also a good indicator of habitual physical activity levels. Poor cardiorespiratory fitness is associated to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. Unfortunately, CRF is often overlooked from a clinical perspective compared to other risk factors such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Lack of physical activity is one of the five leading global risks for mortality, alongside high blood pressure, tobacco usage, high blood glucose, and being overweight/obese.

Running up stairs

The good news is that increasing your levels of cardiorespiratory fitness has a protective effect, reducing associated health risks. The greatest benefit is seen by those moving from the least-fit quintile to the next-least-fit quintile (Myers et al, 2009). Improving CRF reduces health risks, independently from changes in weight. So, just because the scales aren’t shifting doesn’t mean we aren’t making some major health improvements! Health is so much more than what we can see from the outside. Not only does increased fitness reduce health risk, it is also associated to a better quality of life (Sloan et al, 2009).

Steady pace activities that raise our heart rate for at least 30 minutes such as swimming, running, cycling and even fast-paced walking will be beneficial to improve cardiovascular and respiratory fitness. The evidence is still unclear for an optimal intensity to improve cardiorespiratory fitness but as a general rule, it needs to increase your heart rate to a level higher than day to day walking. NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minute of vigorous activity each week. Moderate exercise is anything that brings up your heart rate and makes you breathe heavier than usual such as brisk walking. Vigorous exercise should make you breathe hard and fast and get a sweat on! Think of running, cycling the hills of the English countryside (a firm favourite of mine!) or playing team sports (another favourite weekend activity). Use the talk test – if you can talk but not sing, you’re doing moderate activity. If you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath, it’s vigorous activity. Once we hit the recommended levels, the health gains still continue the more we move! Other lifestyle factors that will benefit cardiorespiratory fitness include giving up smoking, getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet.

Our in-person health assessment includes a heart and lung exercise test, otherwise known as a cardiorespiratory stress test. This test will identify your VO2 max, a predictor of health risk. Our STONE coaches will sit with you to identify areas for improvement and design you a personalised exercise program to complete with us or in your own time, providing you with accountability and support. Consistency really is key.

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