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Health Tips & Advice

Introducing VO2 Sub-Max to the Annual Health Assessment

By Dr. Peter Nord and Dr. Andrew Miners

A new way for our clients to measure cardiorespiratory fitness.

At Medcan, we believe in exercise. Enormous amounts of scientific evidence indicate that exerting our muscles consistently over time is something that benefits both mental and physical wellness. We believe that exercise is medicine and is a great way to maintain health, promote longevity and optimize our biology for an active and enjoyable life. It’s because of our belief in the value of exercise that we’ve made a change in our Annual Health Assessment.

Changes to our Annual Health Assessment

Our Annual Health Assessment will now include a VO2 sub-max test, determining the maximum volume of oxygen that our body can use at one time, which represents a highly effective and accurate way to measure one’s overall cardiorespiratory fitness. VO2 sub-max determines the ability of the lungs, the heart and the blood vessels to take oxygen from the air and transport it to muscle cells, where tiny organelles called mitochondria convert the gas into energy. The more fit you are—the longer and faster you’re able to run and bike and swim and climb stairs, or exert yourself overall—the higher your VO2 sub-max value is.

The idea is to provide value to our clients so that they have a precise measure of how fit they are. And if they aren’t very fit, the knowledge could spur them to address that fact by exercising more. (For further motivation, check out this great blog post from Peter Attia that demonstrates the remarkable longevity benefits that happen when training moves you from the bottom 25th percentile of VO2 sub-max, to the next category up: “A 50% reduction in mortality over a decade.”)

One of Medcan’s ongoing efforts is to consistently revamp the Annual Health Assessment to ensure that we are providing clients with the most clinically relevant insights which increase the likelihood of individuals pursuing a long, healthy and active life. Boosting your VO2 sub-max is associated with all sorts of benefits, from lowered risk of developing heart disease, to decreased incidence of cancer and diabetes. The previous change saw us begin high-sensitive Troponin screening, which uses a blood sample to detect elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, hs-Troponin is so sensitive we can forecast heart attacks a decade before they happen.

Most Medcan clients are familiar with the concept of the four vital signs—the metrics of pulse rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and body temperature, which physicians track as a proxy on one’s overall health. A movement exists for VO2 sub-max to be considered a fifth vital sign. We think it’s increasingly relevant as life expectancy flattens or decreases in North America, and COVID-19 strikes harder among sedentary people.

What you’ll experience

The VO2 sub-max component of the AHA is more convenient for clients than the previous exercise stress test. Now, rather than requiring a 12-lead electrocardiogram rig (read: the sticky patches), our clients wear a simple heart-rate monitor on the chest. They walk/run on the treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike, increasing their pace until they are exerting themselves up to 80% of their maximum perceived effort—just enough for our algorithm to calculate the client’s VO2 sub-max level. And that’s it. In contrast to other ways of assessing VO2 sub-max, there’s no breathing mask, and little to no discomfort.

Most people who exercise regularly will find that their VO2 sub-max is in the above-average range. Those seeking to improve their VO2 sub-max can boost the value with short bursts of intense exercise that benefit not just your cardiorespiratory fitness but also numerous other forms of physical and mental health.

Exercise is great for your overall health and wellness and promotes a long, active and high-quality life. With our new VO2 sub-max test, we hope to provide our clients with a measurement that will inspire them to track, and improve, their overall fitness level over time, and hence increase the likelihood that they can live well, for life.

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