We often tend to associate youth with the best years of life that are full of joy and placidity. Yep, when being 19, 20, 21 and so on we are young, fresh, and brimming with life.
As time passes and the first wrinkles and grey hairs start to appear, we might be concerned about ageing and have the will to stay young as long as possible. But it seems impossible. Magic well-advertised potions and supplements are not that effective and we do not have a portrait that will age and we will stay young forever.
But what we really have is the ability to take control of our lives and pursue a healthy lifestyle, exercise, keep moving, and eat healthily. All of these will be reflected in our ageing and we truly can be 10, 15 or 20 years younger than the passport says, in terms of Fitness Age (FA).
What is Fitness Age?
A novel concept of the Fitness Age (FA) has been established and developed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Cardiovascular Exercise Research Group studied physical activity and how it affects longevity, finding that fitness age can be a good indicator of health.
FA is a concept used to quantify one’s level of physical fitness relative to their chronological age. Your FA shows how fit, thus healthy, you are compared to your actual age.
Fitness age can be determined through various fitness tests, such as measures of cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. These test results are then compared to population norms for a given age, and a score is generated. The higher the score, the lower the FA.
Fitness age can be higher than your actual age, and it can be reduced by improving your physique. As a result, you can be 35 years old and have a fitness age of 25. This is due to better fitness indicators such as higher VO₂ Max (measurement of cardiovascular endurance/health), handgrip strength, body composition, etc. The converse is also true: a person with a chronological age of 50 may have a FA of 70 because their cardiovascular endurance isn’t that strong.
Why is it important?
The reason why we all should care about our fitness age is pretty simple: it reflects our health. By being younger in terms of fitness age than chronologically, a person is more likely to have better overall health, a lower risk of chronic diseases, and a longer lifespan.
Thus, people that experienced an increase of VO₂ Max of 10% lowered their mortality risk by 15% and extend their life by 10 years. VO₂ Max is one of the FA indicators and shows how healthy your heart is.
When it comes to another fitness age indicator and ageing biomarker – handgrip strength (HGS) – 14 studies of grip strength revealed that people with weak grip strength have almost 1.7 times higher risk of death when compared to people with ‘good’ HGS.
What factors affect your Fitness Age?
FA is influenced by various external and internal factors that affect an individual’s physical condition. The core factors are:
Even by having a strong desire to forget about chronological age and take into account fitness, we cannot fully ignore that our fitness age is still influenced by ageing. Age-related processes in the body lead to drops in VO₂ Max levels, and muscle mass and body mobility also reduce as we age. That is why the standards of VO₂ Max, push-ups and so on are validated by accounting for a real age of a person.
Biologically, men tend to be stronger than women, and in most cases, this fact cannot be ignored. For instance, men’s handgrip strength levels are usually higher due to a larger amount of contractile tissue and greater muscle bulk males have.
It is pretty obvious that people who persistently engage in physical activity tend to have better fitness-age results. This is because when exercising you improve your cardiovascular health by making yourself work out at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate; hone muscle strength by targeting various muscle groups; regular exercising levels up your mobility and flexibility. All of these efforts will reflect better VO₂ Max, handgrip strength, body composition, mobility and push-up capacity levels.
These are the key factors that affect fitness age, but other factors such as genetics, medical conditions, and environmental factors can also play a role. It’s important to note that FA can be improved through lifestyle changes, such as regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress.
Five ways to measure your Fitness Age
Fitness age can be determined through various fitness tests, such as measures of cardiovascular fitness (VO₂ Max), muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. These test results are then compared to population norms for a given age, and a score is generated. The higher the score, the lower the fitness age.
When trying out the next test, please ensure you are sticking to the testing protocol and not violating the rules because if so, you may get untrue, biased results.
Test 1: Defining Fitness Age with VO₂ Max (cardiovascular endurance)
An important factor in determining your FA is your VO₂ Max, which measures how well your body uses oxygen.
The VO₂ Max measures the maximum amount and speed at which oxygen can be absorbed in the lungs, transported in the bloodstream, and used by the muscles.
Higher VO₂ Max indicates better cardiovascular fitness and endurance, which reduces cardiovascular disease risk. Cancers and lung diseases are less likely to strike those with a good VO₂ Max level, and they live longer as well.
The easiest way to estimate your VO₂ Max which doesn’t require special laboratory equipment is through resting and maximum heart rates. You need to divide your maximum heart rate by a resting one and multiply the result by 15.3. The result will be your VO₂ Max, if you want to get to know your cardiovascular fitness via a bit more demanding tests try Rockport walking fitness test or the Brigham Young University jog test.
When you get the result using either of these methods you should compare it with the VO₂ Max chart that compares VO₂ Max levels with chronological age groups. If your VO₂ Max is higher than the one of the age group you belong to, you may consider yourself ‘younger’.
Test 2: Assessing Fitness Age with mobility
Mobility is the ability of your body’s joints to move through a full range of motion freely.
We need mobility for a lot of things in our daily lives, including improving our functional movements, balance and overall health.
There are various tests that test the mobility of different body parts, for example, shoulder or hip mobility. Thus, to get to know your FA from the point of view of mobility, you will need to do more than one test. Try out the shoulder mobility test, squat test and core stability test (forearm plank test). Depending on your score on each test you will have an opportunity to assess your overall mobility with the chart below.
Test 3: Getting to know your Fitness Age with a waist-to-hip ratio
The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a measurement of body composition that shows the fat distribution. It has been scientifically proven to be a good disease and health predictor. Studies found that those with more weight around their midsection may be at a higher risk of disease, type 2 diabetes, and even premature death.
To get to know your WHR on your own you should measure the distance between the smallest part of your waist (waist circumference) and the largest part of your hip (your hip circumference). Then divide the waist circumference by the hip circumference.
Using the chart below, you can determine whether your WHR corresponds with your chronological age or whether you are younger or older (hopefully not).
Test 4: Measuring Fitness Age with handgrip strength
Grip strength is the amount of force you can exert with your hand to hold or grasp an object. It is a measure of muscle strength.
The condition our muscles are in can say a lot about our health. The health of your muscles is closely correlated with heart diseases, cancers, fractures and even depression. Plus, meta-analyses on all-cause mortality showed a 31% lower risk of mortality for higher versus lower levels of grip strength.
To measure your handgrip strength you will need to use a dynamometer. To undergo the test correctly you need to bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Then applying your grip force smoothly, squeeze the device as hard as possible. Repeat three times, the average of the three attempts will be your handgrip strength.
After undergoing the test, compare your results with the chart. The higher your result, the better.
Test 5: Indicating Fitness Age with push-ups
VO₂ Max and HGS may seem pretty fancy and not very familiar indicators. When it comes to push-ups we are all acquainted with them, but what is new is that your push-up capacity is a real heart health indicator.
Studies prove that the capacity to do 21 to 30 push-ups lowered the odds of cardiovascular disease by about 75% and being able to do more than 40 push-ups shuts down the risk of heart disease by 96%.
To test the push-up capacity you need to endeavour to do as many reps as you can in one minute and then check the results with a push-up table that will show your fitness age compared to how many pushes you have made.
When you’re doing a push-up test, make sure to use a proper technique. Hands and feet are to be shoulder- and hip-width apart. When lowering the body, the chest has to almost reach the ground. When you are driving back up to the starting position, your arms should be fully extended.
To get a more detailed explanation in order to prevent biased results, check out our testing protocol.
Women should do a moderate type of push-ups for a more accurate assessment, this is due to biological differences between both sexes. The moderate technique will decrease the need for upper-body strength in a test of muscular endurance.
An ultimate Fitness Age test: our advanced methodology – ‘T&M Method’
Now you are acquainted with five different ways of measuring your FA. Thus, these assessments are showing not only a number defining your fitness age, but they also are scientifically proven to be good disease and mortality risk predictors.
The thing is that separately they are focused on different health and fitness aspects, such as cardiovascular health, muscle strength, mobility, and body composition.
To receive an ultimate fitness age result, our team has created our own methodology for measuring FA. The ‘T&M Method’ is an advanced way for professional coaches to assess their client’s overall health and fitness by using the tests, discussed in this article, altogether. The testing system is based on adapted data from the Cooper Institute, ACSM guidance, and observations made during the assessment of 1,000 people of various fitness backgrounds.
Now you know what fitness age is and why it is more important than arbitrary chronological age. Knowing your fitness age can be a motivator to make changes for better health. By tracking it, you become more aware of your health habits and can see the progress made from positive changes. Improving your fitness age leads to better overall health, reducing the risk of chronic conditions and improving cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and mobility, ultimately leading to a better quality of life. It is never too late to start improving your health in case you want to become younger year by year.
Not enough? Here are some more from our colleagues
If you are interested in the topic of ageing, we recommend you read the book ‘Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To’ by Dr. David Sinclair, a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and an expert researcher in the field of longevity. It highlights the recent breakthroughs in research and how lifestyle changes and emerging technologies can help slow down or even reverse ageing. This article is partly inspired by the very writing.
In this gripping podcast, Andrew Huberman who is a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine and Dr. David Sinclair are discussing the mechanisms of ageing and what we all can do to slow or reverse the ageing process.
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