From Lab to Real-Life: Firstbeat to Measure VO2max Fitness Level from 30-minute Walk

Estimating an individual’s Fitness Level whilst walking will be added to the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment in September 2018. A new algorithm developed by Firstbeat has made it possible to estimate VO2max – traditionally measured in a laboratory – from self-paced everyday walking.

Subjectively evaluating your own fitness can be tough. The Fitness Level score gives individuals an objective estimate of their current fitness level in relation to factors such as age and gender. For professionals, it provides another tool to gauge the ongoing success of client fitness plans.

What is VO2max?

VO2max is an individual’s maximal oxygen uptake. It describes how well the body can deliver and utilize oxygen to produce energy during exercise. Known as a key metric for health, it is considered the most important parameter to describe the fitness of the cardiorespiratory system. Research has shown that even subtle improvements in VO2max are associated with better performance, functional capacity, general health, longevity, and even reduced health care costs.

How it works in Lifestyle Assessment

Accurately measuring VO2max has largely been confined to complex laboratory testing which requires intense physical exertion and measurements of respiratory gases. The Firstbeat algorithm simplifies this process and makes estimations possible from real-life self-paced walking activity without the need for a special test. A client’s Fitness Level can be estimated so long as the 3-day measurement data includes at least one continuous 30-minute brisk-moderate walk covering at least 2 km.

Continuous heart rate and acceleration data is taken from the Firstbeat Bodyguard 2 device already used in the Lifestyle Assessment. The most reliable data points are used to calculate VO2max and, ultimately, an individual’s Fitness Level.

“Being able to determine the client’s Fitness Level is a perfect complement to our analysis of stress, recovery, sleep and daily physical activity,” says Exercise Physiologist Tiina Hoffman from Firstbeat. “We know how important physical fitness is for a person’s health and resilience, and that’s why we want to extend this opportunity to our Lifestyle Assessment clients. Fitness Level will also make it easier for the coach to pinpoint their clients’ key development areas, in order to support their well-being comprehensively.”

Benefits include:

  • Accurate estimate of current aerobic condition.
  • Removes subjectivity when evaluating an individual’s fitness.
  • Verifies whether changes made between original and follow-up measurements are having desired impact.
  • A clear pathway to recommend physical activity: It’s harder for clients to ignore presented data.
  • Motivates individuals by showing the Fitness Level on a scale compared to peers of same age/gender.

Feedback from pilot test users

Firstbeat trialed the Fitness Level feature with two pilot groups; One using Lifestyle Assessment through an occupational healthcare provider, and one comprised of individual Lifestyle Assessment participants. The results highlighted how the new feature can encourage positive lifestyle changes. Overall, 73% of pilot users rated receiving their VO2max result as “useful” or “very useful”.

Some specific comments included:

“I always assumed that I was fit. This test result showed where I really stand.”
– Female, 29, VO2max: 36, ‘Poor Fitness’.

“I expected a much better result. This makes me want to exercise more in the future.”
– Male, 45, VO2max: 37, ‘Poor Fitness’.

“I am happy with the result, but, immediately, there’s an understanding that it isn’t a long way to go to reach the ‘Excellent’ Fitness Level.”
– Male, 42, VO2max: 45, ‘Good Fitness’.

“It shook me, but this wake-up call is good. Understanding how much exercise affects things certainly increases my activity. The positive is that I can influence my own condition.”
– Female, 65, VO2max: 25, ‘Poor Fitness’

More Information:
Tiina Hoffman
Exercise Physiologist, Firstbeat
Tiina.Hoffman@firstbeat.com

Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment is a professional grade coaching tool for health and wellness checks. Our unique heart rate variability analysis reveals how the body reacts to 24/7 daily life. It connects the dots between lifestyle and well-being and identifies the steps towards a healthier, fitter and more productive life.

About Firstbeat: Firstbeat is the leading provider of physiological analytics for sports and well-being. Firstbeat transforms heartbeat data into personalized information on exercise, stress and recovery.

 

Sources: 
Ross et al. (2016). Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 134: (24).