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VO2 Max Decrease with Age

Brian Running Faster

VO2 Max decreases with age generally because of weight gain. Learn how changes in body composition can lower it and how high-intensity interval training can improve it.

What is VO2 max?

VO2 max equals mLO2/kg/min. It’s for milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute of exercise.

How does body weight relate to VO2 max?

Your body weight has an inverse relationship with VO2max. So, as body weight increases, your VO2 max decreases.

Why does VO2 max decrease with age?

Since most adults gain weight as they age, their VO2 max also decreases. Also, older people lose aerobic power because they do not run fast intervals every week.

Body Composition and VO2 Max

As most people age, they lose lean body mass (muscle) and gain fat. Since muscle weighs more than fat, you could weigh the same and have less muscle. Since a fatter body does not help you race faster, a higher body fat percentage usually means a lower VO2 max.

However, people who consistently train can maintain or grow muscles as they age. Increasing lean body mass can help you run faster and maintain or improve your V02 max. Endurance athletes who continue to train and have a high percentage of lean body mass can slow the decrease of VO2 max with age.

High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps improve your VO2 max more than moderate training. This randomized controlled trial from PubMed showed HIIT significantly increases maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and stroke volume of the heart (SV). 

Interval Running V02 Max Improvements

Interval running results in a 5.5% to 7.2% increased maximal oxygen uptake also called aerobic power. Examples of effective training protocols include:

  • 15/15 interval running (15 seconds at 90-95% HRmax followed by 15 seconds of active resting at 70% HRmax) resulted in a 5.5% VO2 Max increase
  • 4 x 4 min of interval running (4 min of running at 90-95% HRmax followed by 3 min of active resting at 70% HRmax) resulted in a 7.2% VO2 Max increase

These healthy, nonsmoking, moderately trained subjects performed interval running three days per week for eight weeks. According to Dr. Jack Daniels, you can run at your VO2 Max interval pace for 10-12 minutes in one race. He also recommends intervals be five minutes or less. So, if you rest in between intervals, you can go further. For example, 4 x 4 minutes at interval pace is 16 minutes.

Why Aerobic Perform Decrease with Age?

How many people age 50 or older consistently run fast three days per week? What about people ages 60, 70, and 80?

Not running fast is the primary reason aerobic performance decreases with age. You must run fast intervals every week to maintain or improve your VO2 Max.

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