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Maximum Oxygen Uptake
Tan Sear Enyu, Copyright 2006
(WORD COUNT: 1,072)
What is Maximum Oxygen Uptake?
Maximum Oxygen Uptake is defined as the highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and utilised during exercise by a person. (Also known as VO2 max where derivation is V - volume per time, O2 - oxygen, max - maximum).In this document, VO2 max will be used. Expressed either as an absolute rate in litres of oxygen per minute (l/min) or as a relative rate in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute (ml/kg/min), the latter expression is often used to compare the performance of endurance sports athletes. A number of factors affect VO2 max including the type of exercise, heredity, conditioning, body composition, gender and age. ( In this report, the focus will be on age and its effect on VO2 max.

Importance of VO2 max
Oxygen uptake, or the cell's use of oxygen, rises rapidly during the first few minutes of exercise. If you're doing "steady-rate" exercise with minimal lactic acid accumulation, your oxygen uptake reaches a plateau after three or four minutes. If your workout gets progressively harder, your oxygen uptake rises in direct proportion to the severity of the exercise - for a while. At some point, the oxygen uptake plateaus with no further increase, even though the workload is still growing. This point is called the VO2 max. Additional exercise above VO2 max generally produces lactic acid, resulting in a deterioration of the performance. (

Recent Advances
The 2 recent studies quoted below looks at how age affects VO2 max by studying the different age group muscle mass. The reason for studying the muscle mass is because most of the O2 consumed during VO2 max is used by the appendicular muscles. The significance of these studies is to better define the role of skeletal muscle mass in the decline in VO2 max with aging in trained subjects; not a sedentary subjects.

Study 1

The role of skeletal muscle mass in the age-associated decline in maximal O2 uptake (O2 max) is poorly defined because of confounding changes in muscle oxidative capacity, in body fat and the difficulty of quantifying active muscle mass during exercise.

Research methods used
Attempts to clarify these issues by examining the relationship between several indexes of muscle mass, as estimated by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and treadmill O2 max.

Subjects used
A total of 32 chronically endurance-trained subjects form four groups (n = 8/group): young men (20-30 yr), older men (56-72 yr), young women (19-31 yr), and older women (51-72 yr).

Main findings
O2 max per kilogram body mass was 26 and 22% lower in the older men (45.9 vs. 62.0 ml . kg1 . min1) and older women (40.0 vs. 51.5 ml . kg1 . min1). These age differences were reduced to 14 and 13%, respectively, when O2 max was expressed per kilogram of appendicular muscle. When appropriately adjusted for age and gender differences in appendicular muscle mass by analysis of covariance, whole body O2 max was 0.50 + - 0.09 l/min less (P < 0.001) in the older subjects.

This effect was similar in both genders. These findings suggest that the reduced O2 max seen in highly trained older men and women relative to their younger counterparts is due, in part, to a reduced aerobic capacity per kilogram of active muscle independent of age-associated changes in body composition, i.e., replacement of muscle tissue by fat.

Study 2

This paper asks how the decline in maximal O2 uptake rate (VO2 max) with age is related to the properties of a key muscle group involved in physical activity - the quadriceps muscles.

Research methods used
Maximal oxygen consumption on a cycle ergometer was used

Subjects used
9 adult (mean age 38.8 years) and 39 elderly subjects (mean age 68.8 years) are selected. They are compared based on the oxidative capacity and volume of the quadriceps.

Main findings
VO2 max declined with age between 25 and 80 years and the increment in oxygen consumption from unloaded cycling to VO2 max (VO2) in the elderly was 45 % of the adult value. The cross-sectional areas of the primary muscles involved in cycling - the hamstrings, gluteus maximus and quadriceps - were all lower in the elderly group. The quadriceps volume was reduced in the elderly to 67 % of the adult value. Oxidative capacity per quadriceps volume was reduced to 53 % of the adult value.

The product of oxidative capacity and muscle volume - the quadriceps oxidative capacity - was 36 % of the adult value in the elderly. Quadriceps oxidative capacity was linearly correlated with VO2 among the subjects with the slope indicating that the quadriceps represented 36 % of the VO2 increase during cycling.

The decline in quadriceps oxidative capacity with age resulted from reductions in both muscle volume and oxidative capacity per volume in the elderly and appears to be an important determinant of the age-related reduction in VO2 and VO2 max found in this study. (Journal of Physiology. 526.1: 211-217, 2000)

The topic covered in this report is how the age of a person affects VO2 max, focusing primarily on the physiological aspect of the skeletal muscle mass. Based on the 2 studies stated above, as a person ages, the oxidative capacity of the skeletal muscle mass begin to deteriorate & that contributes to reduction of VO2 max. This could be due to the reductions in muscle properties or loss of muscle volume in the elderly. That is increased in body fat & loss of muscle mass. Study 1 goes one step further to explain that the reduction in oxidative capacity could be due to the decline in maximal cardiac output (and presumably reduced peak muscle blood flow & O2 delivery or extraction).


Wikipedia (2006). VO2_max

Terrapin Masters Swim Club (2006). VO2_max

Proctor, D.N. & Joyner M.J. Skeletal muscle mass and the reduction of VO2 max in trained older subjects. J Appl Physiol 82: 1411-1415, 1997

Conley, K.E., Esselman P.C., Jubrias S.A., Cress M.E., Inglin B., Mogadam C. and Schoene R.B. Ageing, muscle properties and maximal O2 uptake rate in humans. The Journal of Physiology (2000), 526.1, pp. 211-217