Testing your cardiovascular health

The following post is the first of a three part series which will enable you to test your cardiovascular fitness, maximal strength and flexibility. Whether you are a beginner who needs a starting point for reference, or a more advanced exerciser looking to improve your averages, these articles will explain exactly how to measure your overall fitness levels.

Firstly, this post will cover how to measure your cardiovascular fitness by testing your VO² max. Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as the ability to perform compound exercises using large muscle groups for prolonged periods, at a moderate to high intensity.

VO² max is considered the most valid measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. It measures the capacity of the heart, lungs and blood to transport oxygen to the working muscles, as well as how well the muscles utilise oxygen during exercise.

There are a number of tests that you can perform to test the health of your heart with very little equipment other than a stopwatch. Considering that your VO² max is your body’s maximal ability to utilise oxygen to perform work, it is very difficult – and unsafe – to reach that level. The following are therefore sub-maximal tests suitable for all levels.

The Step Test: You will need a step with a height of 12 to 18 inches. Step up and down on the step, one foot after the other, for three consecutive minutes. Set a metronome to 96 beats per minute, allowing you to complete 24 steps per minute (you can access a free metronome at http://www.metronomeonline.com/ ). Once three minutes have passed, sit down and immediately take your pulse for the next 60 seconds to monitor recovery. The faster your recovery time, the stronger and fitter your heart is. Use the following tables from the YMCA to judge your score:

Men, based on age:

  18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 50-76 51-76 49-76 56-82 60-77 59-81
Good 79-84 79-85 80-88 87-93 86-94 87-92
Above average 88-93 88-94 88-92 95-101 97-100 94-102
Average 95-100 96-102 100-105 103-111 103-109 104-110
Below average 102-107 104-110 108-113 113-119 111-117 114-118
Poor 111-119 108-113 116-124 121-126 119-128 121-126
Very poor 124-157 116-124 130-163 131-159 131-154 130-151

Women, based on age:

  18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Excellent 52-81 58-80 51-84 63-91 60-92 70-92
Good 85-93 85-92 89-96 95-101 97-103 96-101
Above average 96-102 95-101 100-104 104-110 106-111 104-111
Average 104-110 104-110 107-112 113-118 113-118 116-121
Below average 113-120 113-119 115-120 120-124 119-127 123-126
Poor 122-131 122-129 124-132 126-132 129-135 128-133
Very poor 135-169 134-171 137-171 137-171 141-174 135-155

The Rockport Walk Test: This test is most suitable for beginners who are unable to jog or run. After a short warm up, walk one mile as fast as possible on a treadmill or flat terrain. Measure your heart rate as soon as the mile is complete, and compare it to the standard chart below. You can then calculate your VO₂ max by using the following formula:

VO₂ Max = 132.853 – 0.0769W – 0.3877A + 6.315G – 3.2649T – 0.1565H

In the formula, W represents weight in pounds,  A is your age your age in years, G is 0 for females and 1 for males, T is your time in minutes and H is your heart rate in beats per minute.

For example, Annie – who is 30 years old and weighs 160 pounds – completes the mile in 13 minutes and 5 seconds at a heart rate of 85 beats per minute. The calculation is as follows:

Annie’s V0₂ max = 132.853 – (0.0769×160) – (0.3877 x 30) + (6.315 x 0) – (3.2649xMINUTES) – (0.1565 x 85) = 95.3434 ml/kg/min

The Astrand Treadmill Test: You will run as long as you possibly can on a treadmill while increasing the incline. First warm up for 10 minutes with a brisk-paced walk, and then set the treadmill to a speed of 5 miles (8km) per hour at a 0% incline. After three minutes, increase the incline to 2.5%. Every two minutes thereafter increase the incline by 2.5% until you can no longer perform the test. You can then calculate your VO₂ max as follow, where time is in minutes:

V0₂ max = (Time x 1.444) + 14.99

For example, John had to stop the test after 13 minutes and 15 seconds.

John’s V0₂ max = (13.25 x 1.444) + 14.99 = 34.123mls/kg/min

The Cooper Test: After warming up for five to 10 minutes, you must run, jog or walk as far as you can in 12 minutes. This is more of an advanced test for experienced exercisers.

Use the following table, based on age and metres, to measure your VO₂ max. The figures are for males – female distances are approximately 10 per cent less:

  <30 30-39 40-49 >50
Poor 1600 1500 1400 1300
Average 2000 1900 1700 1600
Very good 2400 2100 2100 2000
Excellent 2800 2500 2500 2400

Please note that you should warm up with some brisk walking and gentle stretching for five to 10 minutes before attempting any of these tests.

To improve your fitness, start by walking on a flat terrain and work your way up to incline walking or jogging. Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. Once a month repeat the test to see if your results have improved.

Effective goal setting

To train effectively, you must have a purpose behind it. That purpose comes from setting goals – and sticking to them. Without goals, you will have nothing motivating you to stick to a diet or consistently go to the gym. You will find it difficult to focus on the task at hand without falling off the wagon.

Evidence has shown that those who work towards specific goals are far happier than those who do not have strong dreams or aspirations. Without goals, you will live your life with no direction and no incentive to act. Unhappy people tend to be bored, unmotivated and lacking goals.

How to set goals
Your goals must be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For example, the goal of losing 10 pounds in three months is a SMART goal. It is specific because it clearly states a target weight loss, and you will know when you have achieved the goal. It is measurable as it can be assessed with the use of a scale. It is attainable, as you can develop clear steps to achieve the weight loss.

The goal is realistic, as it requires a gradual, healthy speed of weight loss. It should be noted that your goals should not seem too easy either – for example, a goal of losing 10 pounds in three years would provide no real motivating force. Finally, the goal is time-bound as a clear period has been stated to reach the goal. Conversely, without a time frame, there is no sense of urgency and therefore no real reason to take action.

Compare that instead to the vague goal of ‘losing weight’. If your goal is not SMART, there is no real way to measure your progress, and nothing to hold you accountable.

Write down your goals and place them somewhere you will see frequently. It is easy to become overwhelmed with a huge list of goals staring back at you, so instead try to just focus on one or two goals at a time.

By breaking down your large, long-term goal into smaller, short-term targets, you will set yourself up for success. By regularly reaching milestones and checking items off your list of goals, you will breed positivity and each target will become easier than the last. Always keep your larger goal in the back of your mind, but focus most intensely on the short-term objectives.

If you want to run a marathon yet have never run a day in your life, having a single goal of running 26 miles is undoubtedly setting yourself up for failure. Instead, aim to run for five minutes without stopping, then five miles, and then 10, and so on.

Choosing a goal
It is important to chase goals that are your own, which hold value and meaning for you. They must genuinely make you happy, and not be constructed out of anyone else’s desires. When you feel coerced or pressured into making goals, you are likely to quickly lose enthusiasm and interest.

You should also think of goals in positive terms. For example, “to be fit and healthy” is much more positive than the goal of “to not be fat”. When you always think in negative terms about what you should not do, that negative thinking will eventually become a reality.

Staying on track
The best way to stick to your goals is by monitoring your progress. You are your biggest source of motivation! Throughout the journey, you must remind yourself of your goals and the original reason for selecting them. Regularly weigh yourself, take your measurements, have your body fat tested or take photographs of yourself to track your progress. Seeing the physical evidence of change will keep you on the path to success.

That being said, achieving your goals will not be easy. It may involve failure, and overcoming that failure to remain committed to your goals. You will have to deal with your own self-doubts as well as external challenges and pressures, such as your friends calling you boring because you don’t want to drink alcohol with them. When you prepare for potential setbacks in advance you will be less likely to throw in the towel when challenges present themselves.

Also be sure to announce your goals to your closest, most supportive friends and family. This will greatly increase your chance of sticking to your goals, as you will not want to disappoint your loved ones.

Finally, you should reward yourself for achieving milestones to increase your chance of future success. Be careful not to reward yourself with items that go against your goal. For example, instead of rewarding yourself with a piece of cake after losing five kilograms, instead indulge in a massage.

What is the biggest goal you have, and what steps must you take to achieve it?