Health Stats? Tell Me More

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By Trent Whiting
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Health Stats? Tell Me More

The following article was not written by a medical professional and is not intended to make recommendations for your health choices. Consult a medical professional when making personalized fitness plans. 

With the rising prevalence of wearable technology, we are learning more about individual health. We’re gaining the ability to evaluate our own well-being using statistics and data. How many of us though, can say we know exactly what all these metrics mean? For example, what is VO2 Max? How does it play into your fitness goals? Do you need to focus on improving those numbers or is there a better metric that you should look at? The body is a system of parts that work together making you healthy and strong. Improving one part will improve the entire system and focused effort is the best way to improve each part. 

In the respiratory world, you’ll see words like aerobic and anaerobic. The difference between the two is: aerobic is with air and anaerobic is without air. You might think this is the difference between running and swimming but you’d only mostly be right. Your body naturally switches itself between these two zones. Both are the body’s systems for creating ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) which is an energy “fuel” for your body. When your body uses oxygen to create ATP, you are in an aerobic zone. When your body is unable to use oxygen to create ATP it switches to anaerobic. Your body can operate much longer in aerobic mode than it can in anaerobic mode. This is where V02 max can make a difference for you while training. A common aerobic exercise is running, although any exercise where your body is using oxygen to create ATP is aerobic. Once your exertion level crosses that line into anaerobic mode, it’s no longer using oxygen. So, running may not always be aerobic. It might sometimes be anaerobic when sprinting. One training method called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) uses this transition point to train your body to stay in an aerobic state longer, improving cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance. Anaerobic, in comparison, is great for overall weight loss and strength training. 


VO2 max is the body’s ability to use oxygen. The better your body is at using oxygen, the longer it can stay in aerobic mode which is great for endurance sports. It’s been said that the best activity for improving your VO2 max is cross country skiing. Any aerobic activity can improve this number and probably the best one for you is the one you enjoy the most. A snowboarder for example might not enjoy cross country skiing as much as they would split boarding. You might really enjoy high intensity interval training in short bursts but jogging for three miles might make you want to drag your feet. Your VO2 max number is also dependent on age, gender, and fitness level and can even change with altitude. One source says that a good level for a 25-year-old male is roughly 45.4 and a 25-year-old female is about 39.5. Elite level runner VO2 Max metrics measure in at around 55.4 for males and 49.6 for females. One idea when measuring VO2 max is to measure your levels and track your improvement relative to your starting point. However, many factors can influence your current V02 max levels. For example, the altitude you are training at and the temperature that day can increase or decrease your V02 max readings. Hot weather tends to decrease V02 max. 


Next, let’s talk about body composition now. Every body is different. We all have similar components, but the sizes of those components can be different. Sizes of skeletons can be different in terms of height and circumference. Internal organs can have similar differences person to person. The observation that body makeups are different is a major complaint against a measurement called body mass index. On an individual level, BMI can have faults when representing your data. Body builders frequently are represented as being unhealthily overweight on a BMI scale despite having a very low percentage of body fat. BMI can be useful when examining large populations of people and that’s why it exists as a health metric. On an individual level, however, body fat percentage is often seen as a better representation of individual body composition measurement. Some health apps and medical professionals are also using waist circumference as a metric for assessing risk for obesity-related illnesses.  

At the time this article is being written, there is a measurement that is relatively new to wrist worn fitness trackers called blood oxygen level. Your blood oxygen level is a measure of how much oxygen your red blood cells are carrying. Most of the time, you don’t need to monitor your blood oxygen level. That’s probably why your fitness tracker doesn’t display it as readily as  your heart rate. However, if you have a chronic condition such as asthma, heart disease and COPD monitoring your blood oxygen level can help you determine if treatments are working. For example, is your inhaler potent enough? If your tracker is showing your blood oxygen levels returning to a healthy level after using an inhaler, you’ll know it’s doing its job. 


Heart rate might be the most visible health metric on your fitness tracker. Exercise is all about pushing yourself to your limit if you can to increase things like your strength and/or endurance. Operating at too high of a heart rate can lead to serious injury or death. To know your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Next, calculate your target heart rate. For moderate exercise, aim for 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. For vigorous exercise, aim for 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. Remember that rest is just as important to improving your strength or endurance as exertion. Proper, mindful resting periods are often overlooked when training with high aerobic activities. This results in overworking which slows down recovery and overall is detrimental to your fitness.  


Your fitness tracker also can give you an estimate of how many calories you’ve burned in a day. This estimate is based on your heart rate and is generally somewhat accurate. These numbers are useful when planning how to achieve your fitness goals. A plan for weight loss usually includes operating at a calorie deficit where the number of calories you’ve burned is more than the calories you’ve taken in. There are plans for gaining weight as well. So, finding the right balance of calories burned vs. calories consumed is critical. In any plan, nutrition is key. One source claims that when it comes to weight loss it is estimated that exercise plays, at best, a 30% role.  

It’s critical to consult a medical professional who has the tools to understand how your body is consuming energy. Often, folks will get frustrated when they aren’t seeing results on the scale or with a tape measure and the frustration can lead to unhealthy weight loss choices. Finding a medical professional who has the tools to help you not only measure results, but also understand how your body is reacting is paramount. Every body is different and needs different things from how you fuel it (nutrition) all the way to how you train it. 


You may not have considered sleep as something that is highly important to your fitness. Fitness trackers are especially well equipped to help you measure your sleep. They do this by tracking your heart rate, which can indicate your sleep cycles and help you track your quality of sleep. They also use motion from you tossing and turning in your sleep. All of this relates closely to your recovery process. If you’re not recovering properly, your progress will slow and your results will be delayed. Sleep is when our muscles rebuild and become stronger. It is not something to skimp out on. This is one reason fitness trackers have data points to help you get the best sleep possible. 


Stress is another contributing factor to your health and fitness. Some studies suggest that stress levels can be related to illnesses and even obesity. Some fitness trackers use metrics like responsiveness, heart rate, sleep, and exertion balance to detect stress levels. Research your fitness tracker to see if it is measuring your stress and do what you can to manage your scores. It’s important to remember that there are healthy and unhealthy kinds of stress. Both versions are inevitable. You’re going to experience stress, it’s just part of life. The best you can do is learn to manage your stress.  The fitness tracker can help you determine at what points of the day your stress was at its peak, giving you data to help learn healthy ways to respond to your stress and even use it to motivate you and enhance your performance. 

Who knows where fitness trackers will continue to improve, there’s a good chance they will discover ways to track other metrics. It may seem like science fiction that a day will come when trackers automatically count your calorie intake. Who is to say, though? They just might pull it off. In the meantime, we hope this post helps give you a better idea about some of the metrics your fitness tracker logs and gives you a little introduction to help you research further to get the most out of your goalsPerhaps it causes you to contact a professional to make an all-encompassing fitness plan. Stay healthy, stay strong. Go get after it!  

November 5, 2021
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