When guys at my athletic club ask me how old I am, I tend to joke that I’m 39 in basketball years. That subtracts almost 30 years from my chronological age. I’d rather they look at what they see on the court than filter their perception through some stereotype. I’m not eager to be told, as I was at 14, that I’m good – for my age.
Now I discover, thanks to an easy-to-take online test, that I’m not terribly far off the mark. I supposedly have the fitness of the average 47-year-old male. That seems pretty good, but I’m already wondering whether I can knock off a few more years.
The concept of fitness age has been developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who have studied fitness and how it relates to wellness for years, according to an Oct. 15 New York Times article.
Fitness age is determined primarily by your VO2max, which is a measure of your body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen. VO2max indicates your current cardiovascular endurance. If your VO2max is below average for your age group, then your fitness age is older than your actual age. But if you compare well, you can actually turn back the clock to a younger fitness age. The fitness test showed I have a VO2max of 45; the average 68-year-old male registers 37.
Precise measurement of aerobic capacity requires high-tech treadmill testing, the story said. To develop an easy method for estimating VO2max, the scientists recruited almost 5,000 Norwegians between the ages of 20 and 90, measured their aerobic capacity with treadmill testing and also checked a variety of health parameters, including waist circumference, heart rate and exercise habits. They then determined that those parameters could, if plugged into an algorithm, provide a very close approximation of someone’s VO2max.
Fitness age could be a solid predictor of longevity. The results of a recent Norwegian study showed that people whose calculated VO2max was 85 percent or more below the average for their age — meaning that their fitness age was significantly above their chronological years — had an 82 percent higher risk of dying prematurely than those whose fitness age was the same as or more youthful than their actual age. According to the study’s authors, the results suggest that fitness age may predict a person’s risk of early death better than some traditional risk factors like being overweight, having high cholesterol levels or blood pressure, and smoking.
Do I believe I have the fitness of the average 47-year-old guy? Yes, I do. In the age 40-and-over basketball games at my athletic club, I do well competing against physically active guys well below my age. I can keep my self-respect in the open-age B league at my club, and I have the good sense to steer clear of the high-testosterone A league.
Measuring myself against my peak basketball years, time has taken its toll. I weigh the same as I did as a high school senior, but I seem to have lost about 2 inches in height and added 3 inches to my waistline. My strength, speed and jumping levels have diminished considerably. Competitors at the club would be shocked to learn that I, as a 6-foot-1-inch senior, could dunk a basketball – at least in warmups.
The fitness test gives me incentive to see if I can knock off a few pounds and reduce my waistline a bit. I doubt I’ll be growing any taller in this lifetime.