Saturday, 29th February 2020


Why would you want to?

  1. You might be interested to see how you compare with your fellow citizens. Considering the deplorably low fitness level of the population you would wish to see your fitness well above average for your age and sex.
  2. It might also be interesting and hopefully rewarding to measure your response to any new training or other exercise regime.
  3. Your cardio-respiratory-fitness (CRF) level (best measured as VO2max) is a powerful indicator of your life expectancy – particularly your healthy life expectancy or healthspan. If you have a low CRF you should do something about it. That would be do you more good than taking any medication including statins or blood pressure lowering drugs.

Past the age of 40 your CRF is a better predictor of your lifespan than any other measure – the fitter you are the longer you are likely to live – it is better than your blood pressure, your BMI (index of obesity), your blood cholesterol, even your smoking habit. A low level of CRF should be included in calculations of risk for heart disease, but never is. The American Heart Association has suggested that it should be included, but clinicians hardly ever measure it.

How do you measure it?

There are several ways in which you can estimate your own VO2max accurately enough to be useful. The best of these is the Cooper Test, devised by Dr Kenneth Cooper from the US in the 1960s.  Anyone with the ability to walk unaided can do it – and here is how.

The Cooper test

The Cooper Test measures how far you can travel on foot in 12 minutes – as simple as that, yet it gives a remarkably accurate indicator of VO2max. When covering the distance be aware of your limitations. Younger people and fitter older people can run for 12 minutes. If this is too hard for you, try a walk-jog, alternating fast walking with jogging. Older people and those who have not run for many years are best doing it at the fastest walk they can manage. Remember that 12 minutes of continuous exercise is longer than you might think. Don’t start too fast.
There are several ways of measuring the distance.

  1. If you have a smart phone, download a Cooper Test app. Just follow the instructions. The phone will measure the distance covered in 12 minutes, work out your VO2max and tell you how you did. The app will also tell you how you compare with others of your age and gender. Misleadingly, it gives the same comparisons for everyone over the age of 60, so does not do justice for older folk (see below for a broader age spread of normal values).
  2. If you have a GPS watch use it to measure how far you have gone in 12 minutes – on a flat surface. Form the distance covered, calculate your VO2max thus:
    (35.97 x miles) – 11.29 = VO2max
    or (22.351 x Kilometers) – 11.288 = VO2max
  3. Use a measured track (you can make this yourself on any reasonable sized playing field), and note the distance around the track you can cover in 12 minutes. Use the same calculation as above.

The following table, which is taken from Dr Cooper’s results, sets out the results from the distance covered in the 12 minutes, giving both your VO2max and how you compare with everyone else of the same age and sex. Since Dr Cooper’s figures stop at the age of “over 60”, I have added my age predictions for 70 to 79 and 80 to 89. However these predictions apply only to those who are able to complete 12 minutes of walking and this may not apply to many older people. For them, the six minute walk test is a more doable measure of their fitness and how it compares to the population at large.

After you complete the test, you can compare your results to the norms and recommendations for your age and gender with the following table.

12 Minute Walk/Run Fitness Test Results


Age Average (metres) Average VO2max
20-29 2200-2399m 40.1
30-39 1900-2299m 35.6
40-49 1700-2099m 31.2
50-59 1600-1999m 28.9
60-69 1400-1700m 23.4
70-79 1300-1600m 21.1
80-89 1300-1500m 20.0


Age Average (metres) Average VO2max
20-29 1800-2199m 33.4
30-39 1700-1999m 30.1
40-49 1500-1899m 26.7
50-59 1400-1699m 23.4
60-69 1300-1600m 21.1
70-79 1200-1500m 18.9
80-89 1100-1400m 17.8

As mentioned above the six minute walk test is more appropriate for older people or for very unfit younger people. I will tell you about this test, and more, next time

PS   I have mentioned the benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s disease, both as prevention and treatment. Pingpong may hold promise as a possible form of physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease1. People with Parkinson’s who participated in a pingpong exercise program once a week for six months showed improvement in their Parkinson’s symptoms.




  1. Geoff Smith says:

    Just ran 1629m in the 12 min

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Wow – quite an improvement in 24 hours! This brings your predicted VO2max up to 25.1 – good for your age and more evidence of an excellent recovery from a very nasty illness.

  2. Geoff Smith says:

    I am 76 , run most of my life. Aug 2020 through Sepsis etc etc ended up not able to walk. Today did 1400m in the 12 mins and would appreciate feedback and improvement comment if you can. Thanks. Geoff Smith one time Masters o/45 400m Irish Champion 1991

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Sorry to be so long replying Geoff. That distance gives you a predicted VO2max of 20, just below average for your age. So a pretty good recovery from sepsis.

  3. Martin Gillie says:


    You say that CRF is a really good predictor of life expectancy but then talk about VO2max and also 6 minute walk instead of 12. It would be helpful to know what the approximate life expectancy figures are as well as how they vary if the VO2max measurement is different from your averages. I feel that I only have half the story and could not work much out from the figures you have quoted.

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thanks Martin for letting me know that my explanation lacks clarity.
      VO2max is the best measure of cardio-respiratory fitness. The fitter you are the longer you are likely to live but CRF level does not allow more exact estimation of lifespan than that. I don’t know of any figures for the the number of years lost or gained by particular levels of VO2max, though I dare say that in time someone will work that out. The six minute walk test is just a variation of the Cooper test which is more appropriate for older people or very unfit younger people.
      I have changed the text of the Blog which I hope clarifies these points

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