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In 13 Months I cut My Risk of Dying In Half
How I did it and how you can too. The power of Vo2 Max.
Sunday marked an exciting milestone in my personal fitness journey. For the first time, my Vo2 Max—a measure of my cardiovascular fitness—reached the 'High' category. A remarkable leap from being 'below average' to 'High' in just 13 months.
In April of 2022 my VO2 Max as measured by my Apple Watch was 31.5 which put me right on the borderline between “Below Average” and “low” cardio fitness. 13 months later my reading is 47.1 climbing 15.6 points and putting me in the “high” category. I went from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile.
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The classifications come from this important study and they include Low, Below Average, Above Average, High, and Elite.
Low: less than the 25th percentile
Below Average: 25th to 49th percentile
Above Average: 50th to 74th percentile
High: 75th to 97.6th percentile
Elite: at or above the 97.7th percentile
VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during intense exercise, serving as a measure of your cardiorespiratory fitness. According to some studies, my advancement in my personal cardio fitness, signifies a 2 to 3.9 fold decrease in all-cause mortality. In layman's terms, that means my risk of dying at any given moment has been slashed by about half or up to three-quarters. This is an astonishing change in my risk of dying.
And of course I should mention, this is a population statistic, not a personal guarantee. I could still be hit by a bus tomorrow, or develop a disease that I have no control over. But it's nevertheless an impressive stride towards better health and increased healthspan.
To give you some context, let’s look at some other ways you can change your all-cause mortality or your risk of dying.
From that chart, if you look at the “Group Comparisons” and go from “low vs high” - that is where you will see the 3.9 Hazard Ratio. And if you look at “Below Average to High” that is where you will see the 2 Hazard Ratio. This is the reduction in all cause mortality that I used above. My rating is somewhere in between those two because I was exactly on the borderline between Low and Below Average.
Let's delve deeper into the comorbidity risk factors presented in this study. Hazard ratios for various conditions are as follows: Smoking at 1.41, Coronary Artery Disease at 1.29, Diabetes at 1.40, Hypertension at 1.21, and End-Stage Renal Disease at a striking 2.78.
These figures indicate that having low cardio fitness could amplify your risk of dying even more than established risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes, or even end-stage renal disease.
We often direct significant efforts towards encouraging people to quit smoking to extend their lifespan. This is undoubtedly important, but this data suggests that improving cardiovascular fitness should command just as much, if not more, attention. Low cardio fitness, it appears, constitutes a far more substantial risk factor for mortality. So while smoking cessation remains crucial, enhancing cardio fitness can be a game-changer in the pursuit of longevity.
This puts into black and white terms how important it is to be physically fit if you want to live a long time. If you are in the “low” group and went to the “Elite” group - you could have a 5 fold reduction in all cause mortality! Let me make it even more clear. That means that if you had a group of 100 of your peers and 50 of them were predicted to die over a certain time period because you were in the “low” cardio fitness group. If you were to improve your cardio fitness and get into the Elite category, now only 10 of the 100 would die in that time period. Your chance of dying would have been decreased from 50% to 10%. That is massive. It’s more than any other change in lifestyle that you can make.
If your goal is longevity, as mine is, focusing on improving your cardio fitness should be your top priority. Yet I see so many of my friends arguing about what supplements to take, or which diet is best. None of those changes will have nearly the impact as improving your cardio fitness.
Looking back at my numbers, I hope to keep increasing my cardio fitness. If I manage to reach the 'Elite' level, I could potentially secure another 1-fold reduction in all cause mortality. This pursuit has been my primary health objective. Enhancing cardiovascular fitness is arguably the most impactful action one can take to extend their lifespan. It surpasses the benefits of adhering to a specific diet or taking particular supplements, although those factors certainly still hold importance.
When I started my health journey I had a lot of different ideas about what my goals could be. At one point I wanted to try Human Growth Hormone and Testosterone so that I could increase my muscle mass and look better with my shirt off. I have never been a very muscular person and my shoulders are quite weak. I decided that this goal was too vane and I decided that I had a bigger and much more important goal.
My goal is to live a long time and die quickly. While strength is definitely correlated with long life, the use of HGH and Testosterone is not. They could actually decrease your lifespan according to some studies. Once I decided on my ultimate goal, I became very focused on my cardio fitness as it is the most important measurement that I have found that I can influence to increase my lifespan.
How do you increase your VO2 Max / Cardio Fitness?
The best way that I have found is what Dr. Peter Attia calls the 4x4x4. You run as fast as you can for 4 minutes, then rest for 4 minutes, then repeat that cycle 4 times. Since running has been my favorite exercise that I have found, running was my chosen form of cardio fitness.
Another exercise that is great for increasing cardio fitness are Tabata’s using the assault bike. Tabata’s are 20 seconds of maximum effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a certain number of rounds. I like to do 10 rounds but I don’t often do Tabata’s. The assault bike is the bike with the fan for a wheel that you see at the gym. This exercise might sound easy because you’re only going for 20 second bursts, but it’s a killer.
I’m No Doctor
It's important to remember that while fitness is crucial for overall health, any changes in your exercise routine should always be done responsibly. If you're considering incorporating new methods like the 4x4x4 or Tabata workouts into your routine, especially if you're in the lower cardiovascular fitness categories, please consult with a fitness professional or a healthcare provider. Everyone's fitness journey is unique, and it's essential to choose exercises and regimes that suit your individual health conditions and abilities.
You Can Do It!
If you’re interested in improving your cardio fitness, I hope that my journey will serve as an example to show you what is possible. I assure you there is nothing special or unique about what I did. The hardest part was being consistent and starting every day. I did not work out intensely where I was sore for days after. I did not push myself to the edge of my limits. I just woke up, put on my running shoes, and set out on a leisurely run. It was honestly fun once I got going. To think that it is possible for me to lower my risk of dying by a half to 3/4s in just a year - and to go from not being capable of running a quarter of a mile to completing a mile in 7:07 as a part of a 5k run - is unimaginable to me just a year ago. But I did it and you can too. I’m here to encourage you and help you along the way.
Please share any feedback with me by replying to this email or commenting below. If you want to improve your cardio fitness and you want someone to be your accountability partner - I’m standing by and ready to take on that duty! You got this!