Healthy is not being sick — as my kids would say, “duh”. That’s a great starting point but it’s far from the best answer.
If we are not too over- or under-weight, we think that we’re fit. Unfortunately, most doctors traditionally make the same moistake.
The dirty little secret is that we also have risk factors under the radar. Although we feel good, there are silent killers. 70% of deaths are from eight mostly silent killers: heart disease, cancer, stroke, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and osteoporosis. Except for many cancers, all are preventable or better controlled with a fitness lifestyle. That’s why the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in UK and American Heart Association in USA consider exercise (fitness) the best medicine that we have.
However, there are degrees of fitness. We know that death risk is directly related to fitness level. One Metabolic Equivalent (MET) is the amount of oxygen burned at rest. Higher multiples of a MET at peak exercise intensity is a marker of aerobic (cardiac) fitness. In one study, low METs at peak exercise capacity was found to be a stronger predictor of earlier death than risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart arrhythmia, high cholesterol and even smoking. Those whose peak capacity was 5 METs were twice as likely to die sooner than those who could perform at 8 METs. In another study, firemen who could do 40 pushups were 96 times less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who could do less than 10. The Harvard cardiologists who did the study even recommended that pushups should be part of a routine medical checkup.
So, how fit are you? We can measure this precisely by measuring the amount of oxygen you take in at your peak exercise: VO2 max. From learning precisely your degree of fitness, we can custom-design a program to increase your fitness safely but effectively. Your heart rate at your maximum VO2 is an index to how you can safely exercise. In general, we begin exercise programs at about 80% of peak capacity. As your fitness increases, you can do more and harder workouts to obtain that same heart rate. Either by calculation or retesting VO2, your peak heart rate (and METs) increases with your level of fitness and a new set point for exercise may be in order. And you are healthier, feel better and are already decreasing your risk.
Victoria Healthcare and Victoria Vitality (Wellness Age Management program) offer VO2 testing for those interested. An added bonus is also learning your basic metabolic rate and how much fat vs. carbohydrates you burn. This can be very helpful if you are dieting to lose weight or for peak athletic performance.
If you do not want to do the testing, there are several exercise routines with measuring heart rate (easy to do with a wearable fitness watch or band). You find your peak heart rate at maximal exertion and exercise to 80% of that. However, do not do this if you have easy exertion or chest pain climbing one flight of stairs and stop your test immediately for feeling faint or experiencing chest pain.
Those who can do over 10 METs are considered very fit. You may be saying to yourself, that sure sounds painful, all that exercise. A good program starts slow, but the beauty of the exercise medicine is that within 2 to 4 weeks you will much healthier, alive, and energetic. Typically, your libido increases, and you also feel (and even look) more attractive. They say, “no pain, no gain”. But the gain – in health as well as your own sense of wellbeing – far outweighs the pain.
Best wishes for becoming a perfect 10 (METs)!