How old are you really? Fitness age explained


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Aging is a process that’s not fair to everyone. Some people can age really well and the reverse holds true as well. The biggest examples of this statement come by looking at many celebrities who’ve aged over time. Take celebrities like Chuck Norris or Will Smith who seem like they haven’t aged at all. Despite the aging process not being fair, there’s a lot one can do to “feel” young. The concept of fitness age says that your real age depends on your fitness level, the more fit you are the younger your real age will be.

Image: Bleacher Report
Image: Bleacher Report

As we get older, we start losing the ability to do things we could at a younger age. That’s why most professional sports athletes retire by their 40’s because their bodies at that age just aren’t able to deal with the physical strain associated with their profession. However, there are many anomalies that really make us question whether age is just a number. Take celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, or athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo. They’re in the best shape they can ever be and they’re not really young either.

The case of Ronaldo is even more fascinating. He’s 33 years old and most football players retire at this age. Yet Ronaldo’s still in great shape. Recent medical evaluations of the player revealed that he’s as fit as any player in their 20’s and he can likely play till 40. Although many players have played till 40, none have been able to consistently maintain their top level performance like Ronaldo.

Exercise is key

There are many other examples of old but fit athletes, and all of them have something in common. There is plenty of research out there that tells us that exercising is good for you. Working out regularly alongside a healthy meal plan is said to have age-reversing benefits. Exercise is a really powerful tool to stay in shape and “feel younger” than your actual age. That’s where the concept of Fitness Age comes from.

The thing all the famous celebrities and athletes have in common is that they stay true to their strict diet and exercise regimen. Some people start letting loose or relax a bit as the years go by, and that’s understandable. Working out and maintaining your fitness is not easy, it requires a lot of dedication. If it was that easy then everyone would be walking around with a six-pack.

Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

Therefore, your fitness level can really determine your actual age. The truer you stay to your work ethic in the gym, the better the results, and the better you’ll age over time. Sometimes, it’s genetic as well as there are many celebrities who don’t work out either. However, fitness is something we can control. Furthermore, when we talk about fitness age, it refers to the capabilities of our bodies at a higher age, not just looks because at the end of the day what matters is if we can continue to do what we want to despite our age.

Fitness Age

The term was coined by Ulrik Wisløff, who’s a Ph.D. and a professor of exercise physiology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His specialty is cardiac fitness and he was the one who created the fitness age calculator. His papers have more than 20,000 citations. Considering that most exercise papers only get cited once or twice, Wisløff’s work is really credible in that regard as it’s heavily acknowledged by other researchers.

If you open the calculator link, it’s pretty comprehensive. They ask for a lot of data including your exercise frequency, resting pulse rate, your waistline, etc. They then give you an estimate regarding your fitness level. Although it may not be as accurate, it gives a good idea and really tells you where you stand. Wisloff says:

“So you could be 50, but if you have the fitness age of a 30-year-old person, you are really 30 years old.”

He claims that the reverse holds true as well. He’s also an expert on VO2 max which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Wisløff claims that VO2 max is a great indicator of current and future health. The American Heart Association also holds the same view so Wisløff is on to something. So what does VO2 max have to do with fitness age?

According to the professor, the higher the value of your VO2 max, the better your fitness age. Therefore, one’s exercise and fitness is really important as it can have age-reversing benefits.

Image: Best Health Magazine
Image: Best Health Magazine

How to reduce Fitness Age?

If you already didn’t have enough reason to stay fit, now you definitely do. However, the question remains, how do you really stay fit? You might have followed the general rule of thumb to maintain a 5 day a week workout regime, to get 150 minutes of moderate activity in weekly etc. but is it really enough? According to Wisløff, it’s not.

Wisløff found that the usual guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intensive exercise per week are not enough to challenge yourself and grow. He uses a concept known as metabolic equivalents of tasks (METs) which is a measure of exercise intensity. In order to reduce your fitness age, you need to hit 10 to 12 METs which is not so easy.

For starters, half of the American population doesn’t even reach the target set by the recommended amount. Even if some people do hit the target, this amount is too low to help you hit 10 to 12 METs, so as a result, there’s not really any positive impact on your fitness age. Wisløff says.:

“The problem is these numbers don’t account for intensity and don’t reflect how your body responds to a certain activity.” 

You need to challenge yourself in order to hit 12 METs which in turn will help you benefit from all the different benefits of exercise. Wisløff’s findings were quite important and they formed the basis towards research for the now, much popular form of training: HIIT.

HIIT is a way to challenge yourself

When it comes to challenging yourself and making sure you spike your VO2 max levels, there’s no better way than HIIT. The exercise method is all about high-intensity work intervals followed by low-intensity rest intervals. The result is a high calorie-burning workout which really puts your stamina to the test.

Image: Be Well Studios
Image: Be Well Studios

The main reason why HIIT is so popular is that it burns a lot of calories. The reason it’s able to burn so much is by varying the heart rate. This variation, according to Wisløff, is required to reduce your fitness age as well. You can do other intensive workouts as well to reach your MET goals, however, HIIT is one of the best ways to do it.

The best thing about HIIT workouts is that since they’re so intense, you can get done with them fairly quick. So, if you’re someone who’s very busy but wants to stay fit, then you can do HIIT to save time. 30 minutes is all you need. There are some workouts that take even less time than 30, but if you’re a beginner, start with 30 minutes as it’s a bit easier. Here’s one to get you started.

Conclusion

Age is a very complex thing. There are many things that affect age, so we can’t just rely on the fitness aspect of things. However, fitness is something that’s under our control and something that we can make changes on. We may not be able to tamper with our genetics, but we can sure fight for our fitness. The lesson here is that if we want to stay young and healthy, despite what’s written on our birth certificate, then a healthy and fit lifestyle is absolutely necessary.


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Olivia Parker

Parker holds a masters in computer science, but her love for movies and everything that goes into making them forced her to divert her strength to entertainment world. She has been interviewed a number of celebrities in her previous jobs.

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