Your Real Age Doesn’t Matter. This Does.

iStock/Leonardo Patrizi
iStock/Leonardo Patrizi

It turns out that the old cliché, “age is just a number,” has some scientific basis. Sure, you’re going to pick up some of the aches, pains, and decreased capacity for drinking that come with the passing years, but there’s a way you can trick Father Time into winding back the clock on your calendar age.

While you can’t pull a literal Benjamin Button, you have more power than you may realize over another important number: your fitness age. And when it comes to that, you can get younger, which may ultimately mean living longer.

Why you can stop celebrating your calendar birthday

A concept developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, your fitness age is a measure of VO2max (i.e. how much oxygen you use during intense exercise and the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness) and a complex combination of other health factors we won’t list here, because boy are they sciencey.

Since it can be a bummer to determine (one that involves working out with a Darth Vader-like mask strapped to your face and being hooked up to a machine that tracks the quality of each breath), science found a DIY solution. The researchers who invented the concept also created a calculator that estimates VO2max and considers other data -- like workout frequency and intensity, height, weight, and more -- to figure out your fitness age. And this test is one you can take while you wait for Broad City to come back from a commercial break. We call that a win-win.


You might actually be older than someone’s grandmother

These same researchers found out that VO2max is pretty telling: a reading that’s below average for your age (you want it to either equal or surpass the expected number for your age) ups your risk for metabolic syndrome, which could lead to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In other words: the lower your fitness age, the higher your VO2max, the better off you’ll be.

Assuming it’s in that sweet spot, your fitness age also proves that staying fit and healthy is a wise investment -- one that keeps you young. “It’s going to benefit you by decreasing the rate at which you age,” says fitness expert Pamela Peeke, MD, a member of the National Senior Games Association Foundation Board.

Peeke (a senior Olympic triathlete herself), together with Ulrik Wisloff, the professor who spearheaded the development of the fitness age calculator, used the calculation with a select group of people: senior Olympic athletes competing in this year’s National Senior Games. The results? Yeah, they’re kind of amazing. The average fitness age of the senior athletes is a good 25 years below their actual age.

Carry this logic out, and you can see the implications: a horribly out-of-shape 30-year-old might have a fitness age of 55, while a super-fit 75-year-old grandmother might have a fitness age of 50. All of a sudden, you just leapfrogged into another generation.

So someone’s grandma or grandpa may be “younger” than you are right now, depending on how active you are. An extreme example, to be sure, but the takeaway totally applies to people without Olympic aspirations, too.


How to live with yourself

Well, if you already have good health and fitness habits (meaning your fitness age should probably be less than your actual age), KEEP DOING YOU. You’re killin’ it, even if your fitness age is only one year less than your chronological one, assures Peeke.

On the other hand, if you’ve got some room for improvement (or just want the bragging rights that come with a lower fitness age), she says the solution is simple: be more active and don’t treat your body like a trash chute. Because, unfortunately, you can’t qualify for the Senior Olympics based on your fitness age.

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Alexandra Duron is a freelance writer for Thrillist and is relieved that this calculator doesn’t ask for a cookie count. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @alexduron.