natural VO2max decline with age – how bad will it get for you?

natural VO2max decline with age – how bad will it get for you?

If you are a 30-year-old who can run at 10mph then, by age 75, you will be lucky to be able to slowly climb the stairs. That is what the somewhat depressing chart above says. What do you think?

From middle age, maybe earlier, our VO2max capacity decreases by about 1% a year. So you and I can certainly train and improve our VO2max but the maximum we can ever achieve inevitably declines and so achieving VO2max levels that we once could becomes progressively harder with the passage of time.

Most regular visitors to this site are probably above the green line but just how far above? and does running at 10mph mean you can run 10 miles in an hour? or 10mph for a few minutes? I definitely can’t do the former any more but can easily do the latter. Plus at the age of 80, I certainly want to do more than slowly climb the stairs, I guess if I could run at 6mph/10km/h for an hour at age 80 I’d bag that now if I could, as a lot can head South after age 60.

Though it’s interesting to note that the Bushy Park 5k parkrun age graded record is held by Jane DAVIES – 100.23% 21:30 which shows what a V70 athlete can achieve. Amazing stuff. There is hope for us all




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3 thoughts on “natural VO2max decline with age – how bad will it get for you?

  1. I think it’s less about actual capability and more about theoretical oxygen demand of a given activity, i.e. running continuously at 10 mph would require your body to be able to support that much more oxygen uptake as opposed to a 6 mph jog. That said, VO2 Max, as has been established multiple times, is a pretty flawed measure of your actual fitness as too many other things play an important role in your ability. You can have a VO2 Max of 100, but if you lack a leg running 10 mph might be somewhat problematic.

    In running, your experience, form, and economy matter probably as much as VO2. Remember Lance Armstrong? Juicing aside, he had a fairly outstanding VO2 Max numbers and was at the top of his game for many years. And yet, when he attempted the NYC marathon, after more than six months of training and running with pacers, he barely made it under 3 hours. Compare that to Shalane Flanagan who did 2:33 in NYC in 2021 already being retired after running a bunch of marathons in preceding months! Likewise, we have Paula Radcliff, whose VO2 Max has peaked in early 2000s, yet she went on crushing it for many years to come. And don’t even start me on Kipchogie… T

    Whatever! We all gonna slow down and croak eventually. It’s how we arrive at that point that matters.

  2. Some of this age decline research is culture-normative. That is in the West up until recently people stopped participating in sport after high school or college and also manual labor with inherent exercise and even walking is very niche. As a result you may also come across hand wringing about how chronic endurance exercise in adulthood might lead to an “enlarged heart” which in abnormal medicine is normally associated with pulmonary disease. But actually the vast majority of westerners have atrophied hearts and metabolic syndrome from a pathologically sedentary lifestyle combine with unlimited access to calories.

    We are discovering now that sporting decline is nowhere near what was once thought as masters athletes are remaining competitive. The decline is definitely real but the data on the health span and capacity of well-trained people is thin.

    Another thing to consider that VO2max is not itself super interesting for endurance sport. Since the whole point is sustainable effort, endurance performs is more about lactate threshold and how close the LT2 is to VO2Max.

    Here is an inspiring story about ultramarathon in your 80s. These guys are finishing in double the time of the elite runners but they definitely aren’t in wheelchairs or anything.

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