4MV #219 What lies behind the hype of Zone 2 and longevity ✔ Explained

⭑ Zone 2 isn’t the only way to improve your Vo2 max ✔ but it works
⭑ Some Zone 2s are Zone 3s! ✔ How to decode Zone 2
⭑ Your VO2 max declines 2% a year ✔ You can reverse this decline
⭑ Simple, effective and do at home ✔ this exercise builds your whole core


Heart rate zones.

I ran 15 km today for the first time and had lots of time to think about heart rate zones. Since taking up running in my older age, I've never gone beyond 14 km.

Despite running 5 km 1000+ times and incorporating a lot of interval training, I've yet to give much attention to my real-time heart rate zones.

There are multiple ways to calculate heart rate zones. I'll break it down for you in in item #2, and leave you with a surprisingly simple recommendation.

But why bother at all? What lies behind the hype and marketing of "Zone 2" training, and what do you need to know - see item #1.


01 Zone 2 Training, VO2 max, and Longevity

You've undoubtedly seen many "breaking stories" about "10,000 steps" being fake, and it all based on a marketing campaign from Japan. That's true, but there's no harm in doing 10,000 steps.

I sometimes feel the same about Zone 2 training. There's no doubt that training to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness has terrific benefits, manifesting as a longevity predictor.

Training adaptations in critical organs like our lungs, heart, and skeletal muscles are crucial for oxygen delivery and utilisation. These are core to improving VO2 max - a measure of our aerobic capacity and cardiovascular fitness.

Having a higher VO2 max signifies that our body has a better capacity to effectively absorb, transfer, and utilise oxygen. Individuals with higher VO2 max values are able to maintain high-intensity physical activities for longer periods of time without experiencing shortness of breath. They tend to live longer, better.

There are many sustainable ways to improve your VO2 max including HITT, strength training, interval training or circuit training.

"Zone 2" dominates the stage because it is kind of catchy, it sells, and it does no harm.

What this means for you: The metabolic reality is that as you train at Zone 2, in the vast majority of circumstances, your rate of improvement of VO2 max plateaus - quite quickly.

For 99% of people, this is not a big deal, because "undertraining" VO2 max is far better than doing less - especially when we are older.

Now you are training at less than Zone 2 which actually has an important payback. You have a low likelihood of physical and metabolic injury, especially impairment of your immune system. You are also improving the body's metabolic flexibility - its ability to transition from carb-burning to fat-burning more efficiently. This is good.

⇒ On the other hand, if you wish to keep improving your VO2 max you have to regularly recalibrate your training intensities to your level of fitness.

I'll explain how to do this in Item #2 below.

Related: How To Sleep Better And Recover Like Elite Soccer Players​


02 Here Are Your Zone 2 Heart Rates - Take Your Pick

You might be surprised to know that some highly-cited Zone 2 heart rate calculation methods result in targets that range from Zone 1 to Zone 3 in others. I'll stick with the big four:

  • The 220 minus Age method e.g. 100% for a 70 yo is 150 bpm.
  • The Karvonen Formula (Heart Rate Reserve Method).
  • The MAF Method (Maximum Aerobic Function 180 minus Age (adjusted).
  • Joe Friel's Method for Athletes.

The "220 minus Age" method is the most widely used. The latest upgrade to the Apple Fitness app uses the Karvonen Formula which is a step forward. Refined methods like the Karvonen Formula and the MAF Method take into account personal factors such as resting heart rate, fitness level, and health status.

Here is my "Zone 2" according to the four methods (I put Zone 2 in quotes as a way of begging the question "what is Zone 2"?). For me, a 75 yo male:

  • 220 minus Age: 87 to 102 bpm - the most commonly used method.
  • Karvonen: 110 to 119 bpm - the new Apple method.
  • Joe Friel: 92 to 108 - adjusted for "male". 94 to 110 for women.
  • MAF Method: 105 plus 10 = 115 bpm.

The MAF Method starts at 105 for me (180 - 75) and is then adjusted down 5 for injury, down 5 again for inactivity, or upwards by 10 for an active uninjured senior.

The good news is that whatever "Zone 2" you use, this training focuses on long-term physiological adaptations that improve your quality of life.

What does this mean for you? You can see that Zone 2 of the Karvonen and the MAF methods is Zone 3 of the "220 minus Age" and the Joe Friel methods.

And they all "work" - they will improve your VO2 max and optimise stress on your metabolism.

Many ultra athletes use the simple, fixed MAF formula based on age. These are athletes who have to train 3 to 4 times their long competition distances. This means they are pacing their bodies over very very long training periods, and need to remain alert to immune system failures and the like.

The only formula which adjusts to your level of fitness, and keeps you in your "real" Zone 2, is the Karvonen Formula. Therefore:

⇒ If you want simplicity you can ditch the Zone 2 hype. Use the MAF Method. You only need to measure your heart rate. For a 60 year old it will be 120.

⇒ If you want a Zone 2 that adjusts with your fitness level then use the Karvonen Formula, Apple Fitness will automatically adjust it monthly to your fitness level. I love this.

Related (older blog posts of mine): How To Easily Calculate Calories Burned Walking, Running, Rowing or Exercising in Bed. No Gadget Required

@Medium - Follow me on Medium ↗, covering ⭑food, ⭑brain, ⭑body, ⭑life


03 Some Facts about VO2 max and Your Health

The relationship between VO2 max and longevity and lifestyle is a fascinating one. It's helpful to know something of this relationship as we can influence (improve) our VO2 max, and the implications are consequential

Firstly, VO2 max is a predictor of longevity:

  • People with higher VO2 max levels lived approximately 5 years longer than those with lower levels - a study referenced on Runners World​​.
  • A clear trend exists between fitness (measured by VO2 max) and mortality, indicating that higher fitness levels are associated with lower mortality rates.
  • VO2 max has been proven to be a strong and independent predictor of all-cause and disease-specific mortality​.

Secondly, regarding improvement in quality of life:

  • A 10% increase in VO2 max can reduce the risk of death by 15% and potentially offer an additional 10 years of good quality life for individuals in poor physical condition​​.
  • Maintaining a higher VO2 max is associated with the ability to produce more energy, perform more work, and thus, sustain a higher level of overall fitness, which correlates with more enjoyment of life as we age.
  • Individuals with lower VO2 max scores are at a greater risk of heart disease and specific types of cancer, underscoring the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness in disease prevention and management​​.

What this means for you: Since VO2 max generally declines with age, at a rate of about 2% per year after the age of 30, this leads to decreasing cardiorespiratory fitness, which could potentially impact longevity​​ and disease-specific mortality.

⇒ You can slow, and reverse, that natural rate of decline.

Pick a rower, cycle, treadmill, run, swim, set a timer for 40 minutes, and off you go. Two or 3 times a week. You'll soon notice the benefits.

Related: The Exact Slow Pace You Must Run and Cycle To Max Fat-Burning ...


04 Unleash the Power of the Bird Dog

Our exercise of the week is... the bird dog, for your core, shoulders and hips.

Although situps are the go-to core exercise, they primarily focus on flexing your spine and fail to recruit the full extent of your core muscles, resulting in limited benefits.

The bird dog is an underrated exercise that challenges your balance, and stability. It strengthens your core, improves posture, engages your glutes and shoulders for enhanced mobility, and improves hip mobility too.

It is one of those exercises where you will really short-change yourself if you rush. It is all about maintaining a solid posture and owning your balance and stability.

The key is maintaining total body tension and complete control of your core. This is challenging.

What this means for you: Like the standard plank, the bird dog requires you to brace your core muscles to keep your spine straight. However, once you start moving your arms and legs, you'll be fighting to stay in position, preventing your shoulders and hips from dipping. That's anti-rotation.

The bird dog trains your core muscles through bracing and anti-rotation, but you must also concentrate on coordinating your movements to keep your arms and legs in sync. To a lesser degree, you have to engage your glutes and shoulders to keep your limbs elevated. This makes the bird dog a low-key solid move to help improve shoulder mobility.

See this video here.


Get Your Glutes Firing: Engage your glutes by lifting your leg and squeezing the glute as hard as you can. This helps to keep your body balanced during the movement.

Be Intentional: Stay focused on every movement, keeping your torso parallel to the ground and ensuring your hips and shoulders stay square. Complete core engagement is key.

Reach: Stretch your arm and leg out as far as possible while keeping your hips and shoulders square. This helps to improve shoulder and hip mobility and gently stretches your back extensors.

Look Down: Instead of looking straight ahead, keep your gaze at your mat to maintain a neutral position for your head and neck, preventing any stress on your lower back.

Enjoy, you'll feel your core strengthening.

Related: Woody Allen was wrong. Consistency and success aren't about just showing up.

Thanks for reading!

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>> My Latest Blog Post: Energise Your Golden Years: Boosting Your Desire to Exercise with Gut-Healthy Foods

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