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What's your "fitness age"? It's a key predictor of how long you're likely to live

The Norwegian Cardiac Exercise Research Group was established early in 2008 with funding from the Norwegian Research Council and other grant organizations. The work of their team of 36 research scientists "focuses on identifying the key cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of physical exercise on the heart, arteries and skeletal muscle in the context of disease prevention and management through experimental, clinical and epidemiological studies. Identifying the cellular and molecular mechanisms associated with aerobic fitness is important, because it may help us develop new and better methods to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.  The relationship between physical activity and health can be studied by either top-down or bottom-up approaches. The top-down approach starts with epidemiological studies, and then works its way towards identifying possible general physiological mechanisms. The bottom-up strategy begins with the basic molecular mechanisms induced by exercise, which are then placed in the greater context of improving public health ... We wish to address the lack of an integrated approach in fighting major public health issues such as inactivity, obesity, metabolic syndrome and subsequent cardiovascular disease, and the ensuing economic and social burdens on society in terms of treatment for lifestyle-related disease."

The researchers have published a stream of interesting studies, the most recent being "Estimating VO2peak from a nonexercise prediction model: The HUNT study, Norway". What the authors have found is that it seems that one can make a pretty good estimate of someone's cardiorespiratory fitness from key variables like age, waist circumference, exercise frequency/intensity and resting pulse rate without having to resort to expensive and hard to access fitness testing equipment.  The New York Times has picked up on this research and put out an intriguing article entitled "What's your 'fitness age'?"This is freely accessible in full text and it's a good read, starting "Trying to quantify your aerobic fitness is a daunting task. It usually requires access to an exercise-physiology lab. But researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim have developed a remarkably low-tech means of precisely assessing aerobic fitness and estimating your "fitness age," or how well your body functions physically, relative to how well it should work, given your age", and continuing "In order to figure out how to estimate VO2 max without a treadmill, the scientists combed through the results to determine which of the data points were most useful. You might expect that the most taxing physical tests would yield the most reliable results. Instead, the researchers found that putting just five measurements - waist circumference; resting heart rate; frequency and intensity of exercise; age; and sex - into an algorithm allowed them to predict a person's VO2 max with noteworthy accuracy, according to their study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise."

The NYT author is probably somewhat over-hyping the study (which isn't a predictive one) but makes interesting points when she writes "The results can be sobering. A 50-year-old man, for instance, who exercises moderately a few times a week, sports a 36-inch waist and a resting heart rate of 75 - not atypical values for healthy middle-aged men - will have a fitness age of 59. Thankfully, unwanted fitness years, unlike the chronological kind, can be erased, Dr. Wisloff says. Exercise more frequently or more intensely. Then replug your numbers and exult as your "age" declines. A youthful fitness age, Dr. Wisloff says, "is the single best predictor of current and future health."  Check out your own 'fitness age' with the Cardiac Research Group's online calculator.  Intriguing ... and the other sections on exercise advice from the Group are worth looking at too, including their 7 week fitness programme. Additionally there's lots of information about exercise here on the "Good Medicine" website ... see, for example, "15 minutes of exercise daily reduces mortality by 14% - and each additional 15 minutes gives 4% additional mortality benefit"   and "Would you like to be 14 years younger - it's largely a matter of choice!"  For advice on how to, how much, is it safe, motivation, and more click on this website's exercise tag.

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