Aerobic capacity (AC) is the maximum amount of oxygen consumed while performing intense activities that involve large muscle groups.
It is also a measure of how effectively the heart and the lungs get oxygen to the muscles. Hence, improving your aerobic capacity can directly result in more efficient use of oxygen by the body.
The other term which is used to describe aerobic capacity is VO2 max.
However, the VO2 max also takes into consideration the individual's body weight.
Importance of Aerobic Capacity
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Improving aerobic capacity strengthens your heart and helps it pump blood throughout the body more efficiently. In fact, aerobic exercises are recommended by the American Heart Association for those who are at risk for heart diseases.
Aids Better Sleep
A study reported that aerobic exercises improve sleep quality in adults with insomnia.
Helps Ward Off Viral Diseases
Improving your aerobic capacity can boost your immune system and gear it up to fight viral infections like cold and flu.
Increases Your Stamina
Though aerobic exercising can be tiring initially, building up your aerobic capacity also improves heart and lung capacity. All these factors can help build up your stamina.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Aerobic exercises help lower blood pressure. A meta-analytic study reported the effects of aerobic exercise training in lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Boosts Your Mood
Aerobic exercising helps alleviate the symptoms of mental conditions like depression and anxiety. It also promotes relaxation of the mind.
Reduces Chronic Pain
Low impact cardio activities can help with chronic back pain. They also may help improve endurance and get back some muscle function.
Helps with a Longer Life
Studies suggest that people who engage in regular aerobic exercise live longer than those who don't. They also have a lower risk of dying of conditions like heart disease and certain cancers.
How does Genetics Influence Aerobic Capacity?
A study conducted by a consortium of five universities in the United States and Canada revealed astonishing variation in the aerobic capacity amongst 481 participants. The study subjected its participants to identical stationary-bicycle training regimens with three workouts per week of increasing intensity under strict control in the lab.
- 15% of participants showed little or no aerobic capacity gain
- Up to 15% of the participants showed a 50% increase in the amount of oxygen their bodies could use
VEGF-A and Aerobic Capacity
VEGF-A is a gene that encodes Vascular endothelial growth factor A. VEGF-A has important roles in mammalian vascular development and diseases involving abnormal growth of blood vessels. Variations in the VEGF-A gene influence heart structure, size, and function. These have an impact on the stroke volume, which is an important determinant of aerobic performance.
rs2010963 and Aerobic Capacity
rs2010963, also known as G-634C, is an SNP in the VEGF gene. The C allele has been associated with better aerobic capacity. According to a study, GC and CC genotypes were found to have higher values of aerobic performance.
Other genes like ADRB2, CAMK1D, CLSTN2, CPQ, GABPB1, NFIA-AS2, NRF1, PPARA, PPARGC1A, and PPP3CA also influence the aerobic capacity of an individual.
Non-genetic Factors that Influence Aerobic Capacity
Sex: Men have higher VO2 max than women. This is because women have smaller hearts, lower hemoglobin, and more fat, all of which influence oxygen delivery to muscles.
Age: VO2 max decreases with age. After 25, it reduces at the rate of about 1% per year.
Body size: Larger body size and greater musculature is associated with higher VO2 max. This is also partly why men have a higher VO2 max.
Fitness levels: A fit person may has a higher aerobic capacity and VO2 max than a sedentary person of the same age and sex.
Improving Aerobic Capacity
Genetics is only 50% of the fitness story. The rest wires down to other factors like your lifestyle, what you eat, and how hard you train.
Augmenting your aerobic capacity can result in better blood and oxygen flow to muscles.
This promotes faster recovery between sets and improves your flexibility.
Aerobic exercises include walking, running, cycling, swimming, and almost every other cardio workout.
When aerobic exercises are performed, your heart is trained to deliver more oxygen in a said span of time. At the same time, your muscles are trained to utilize the oxygen delivered more efficiently.
To improve your aerobic capacity, it is important to understand how your body builds endurance.
It depends on the following three things:
1. Heart rate (number of beats per minute)
2. Stroke volume (amount of blood pumped out with each beat)
3. Cardiac contractility (a measure of the force with which the heart muscles contract)
When you train to increase all the above-mentioned variables, naturally, the amount of blood and oxygen reaching your muscles increase.
This, in turn, has a positive effect on your overall athletic performance.
HIIT workout (High-intensity interval training): Studies show that HIIT workouts increase mitochondrial density. This directly results in an increased amount of oxidative enzyme. As a result, the functioning of your skeletal muscles is enhanced.
You can start with a simple 10-minute workout consisting of three sets.
Gradually you can increase the duration, and at the same time, try to fit in more sets.
LISS training (Low-intensity steady-state training): LISS training is the less popular cousin of HIIT. Though it is not as effective as HIIT in burning calories, it is a slow, steady, and lower-stress way to improve AC.
List of aerobic exercises
Aerobic training usually targets large muscle groups of your body that boost your heart rate for longer periods of time.
Some of the commonly recommended aerobic exercises include
Walking and running: Other than helping you lose weight, walking and running at moderate paces also help people with joint problems.
If you do not have access to outdoor space, treadmills can also work.
Swimming: Water aerobics in general, are easy on your joints due to the buoyancy offered by the water
Cycling: Cycling is an amazing leg workout and exerts lesser stress on joints compared to walking or running
Some of the aerobic exercises that you can do at home include:
- Jumping jacks
- Running in place
- Aerobic activities increase the oxygen availability for muscles by increasing the physical capacity of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
- Genetics partly influences the aerobic capacity of an individual. The VEGF-A gene plays an important role in vascular development. According to a study, the C allele of SNP rs2010963 in the VEGF-A gene is associated with higher aerobic capacity.
- Improving your aerobic fitness can help improve your cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, aid better sleep, and reduce chronic pain.
- HIIT and LISS workouts can help improve aerobic fitness. Some at-home exercises like skipping, squats, and jumping jacks also increase your aerobic capacity.