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VO2max and Whole Body Cryotherapy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines VO2max as “the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period of usually intense exercise.” VO2max is commonly thought of in regard to athletic performance, and is an important variable in endurance sports in particular.1 It is also important in spaceflight. VO2max declines in astronauts during long and short duration missions.2,3 A healthy VO2max in astronauts is important in both maintaining good general health, and in successful extravehicular activity performance.4,5 VO2max is also important for general human health. Increasing fitness, commonly measured by VO2max, leads to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).6 CVD affects 1 in 20 Australians over the age of 2,7 and causes more deaths each year than cancer.8 Lunar astronauts have a CVD mortality rate 4-5 times higher than astronauts who never left Earth or even just remained in Earth’s orbit.9 As I plan to live a long and healthy life on either planet, I’ve focused on increasing my VO2max. I recently did a wholebody cryotherapy experiment at Alchemy Cryotherapy in South Yarra [URL: http://alchemycryo.com.au] at -110 degrees C to see its effect on VO2max. The Martian environment may create limitations on the type of exercise and movement humans can do to maintain good fitness, and with an average temperature of -55 degrees C (range 20 to -153),10 Mars may provide other options. Research shows that winter swimming in very cold environments can decrease systolic blood pressure (SBP).11 Elevation in SBP has been linked to increased CVD.12 While the research may be inconclusive on the specific effects of cold therapy on VO2max, and CVD, I hypothesised that using temperatures not dissimilar to those on Mars may improve mine. I applied an adaptation of Mila-Kierzenkowska et al’s (2009) protocol, where 9 female kayakers were exposed to twice-daily cryostimulation prior to training for a 10-day period.13 The kayakers’ protocol had shown a significant positive effect on superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity in erythrocytes (SOD & GPx are our body’s natural antioxidants) from around day 6 onwards. As exercise can lead to potentially damaging oxidative stress,14 and I was planning to continue exercising during my cryo experiment, this seemed like a logical ‘by product’ to seek. Over 10 consecutive days I undertook two 3-minute cryotherapy sessions at -110 degrees C each day with a 10-minute break period at room temperature in-between the two sessions to bring my body temperature back to normal. In the cryotherapy chamber I wore minimal clothing to ensure maximal skin exposure (light shorts and sports bra, socks, Crocs, mittens, a surgical mask and ear muffs). In advance of my first cryo session, I performed the 3-minute step test to assess my baseline VO2max; and applied the same test on the day following my final WBC double session. The 3-minute step test is a proven measure for VO2max and can be performed nearly anywhere.15,16 My baseline (pre-cryo) VO2max was 39.21, and my subsequent (post 10-day cryo) VO2max was 42.91. Higher is better. The VO2max reference values for an active woman of my age (48yo) is 31.1 +/- 5.4.17 Within the VO2max reference value age ranges, I moved from the reference range of an active 35 – 44yo woman into the range of an active 25 – 34yo woman after the 10 days of cryo. I will be testing these again in the coming weeks to see if this is sustained. My new VO2max shows we have the power to alter our body’s oxygen utilisation potential in a short amount of time. This is useful to know for the potential of living on Mars. It is also useful for my life today, as I am able to perform better at more of the exercises I do regularly and I am now positioned for a longer, healthier life on Earth. The thought of exposing one’s body to -110 degrees C may leave some people cold (hehe). There are many other ways of increasing VO2max or oxygen delivery, including:

  • oAerobic exercise. Walking faster leads to greater VO2max increases,18
  • oResistance training (e.g. lifting weights),19
  • oHigh Intensity Interval Training (HIIT),20
  • oSauna,21
  • oYoga,22
  • oMeditation,23 and more!

Whether it’s getting cold or hot, moving, picking up heavy things, running, walking or breathwork, all are effective options for improving VO2max. When done with purpose and intent, of course.

References

  1. DR Bassett & ET Howley, ‘Limiting factors for maximum oxygen uptake and determinants of endurance performance’, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 32, issue 1, 2000, pp. 70-84.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10647532]
  2. CJ Ade et al., ‘Decreases in maximal oxygen uptake following long-duration spaceflight: Role of convective and diffusive Otransport mechanisms’, Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 122, issue 4, 2017, pp. 968-75.  [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28153941]
  3. AD Moore et al., ‘Aerobic Capacity Following Long Duration International Spaces Station (ISS) Missions: Preliminary Results’, paper presented at 82nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the Aerospace Medical Association; 8-12 May 2011; Anchorage, AK; United States, available: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20100037247.
  4. CJ Ade et al, op. cit.
  5. CJ Ade et al, ‘Relationshipbetween simulated extravehicular activity tasks and measurements of physical performance’, Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, vol. 203, 2014, pp. 19-27.  [URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25169116]
  6. CC Grant et al., ‘Acomparison between heart rate and heart rate variability as indicators of cardiac health and fitness’, Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 4, 2013, pp. 1-5.  [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24312058]
  7. Australian Bureauof Statistics (ABS), ‘4338.0 – Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13’, 2013, available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4338.0~2011-13~Main%20Features~Heart%20disease~10005.
  8. ABS, ‘3303.0 -Causes of Death, Australia, 2016’, 2017, available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2016~Main%20Features~Australia’s%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202016~3.
  9. MD Delp et al., ‘ApolloLunar Astronauts Show Higher Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: Possible Deep Space Radiation Effects on the Vascular Endothelium’, Scientific Reports, vol. 6, article no. 29901, 2016, pp. 1-11.   [URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep29901]
  10. M Williams, ‘Whatis the average surface temperature of the planets in our solar system?’, Phys.org, 2014, available: https://phys.org/news/2014-12-average-surface-temperature-planets-solar.html.
  11. J Hirvonen et al.,‘Plasma catecholamines, serotonin and their metabolites and beta-endorphin of winter swimmers during one winter. Possible correlations to psychological traits,’ International Journal of Circumpolar Health, vol. 61, issue 4, 2002, pp. 363-72.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12546194]
  12. D Pei et al., ‘Relationshipof blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk factors in normotensive middle-aged men,’ Medicine, no. 90, issue 5, 2011, pp. 344-9.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21857368].
  13. C Mila-Kierzenkowskaet al., ‘Whole-body cryostimulation in kayaker women: a study of the effect of cryogenic temperatures on oxidative stress after the exercise,’ Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, no. 49, issue 2, 2009, pp. 201-7.  [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19528900/]
  14. LL Ji, ‘Exercise and Oxidative Stress: Role of the Cellular Antioxidant Systems’, Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, vol. 23, issue 1, 1995, pp. 135-66.  [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7556349]
  15. B Mackenzie, ‘VO2 max Step Test’,2018, available: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/stepvo2max.htm.
  16. AS Santo & LA Golding, ‘Predicting Maximum Oxygen Uptake from a Modified 3-Minute Step Test,’ Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 74, issue 1, 2003, pp.110-5.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12659482]
  17. AH Herdy & D Uhlendorf,‘Reference Values for Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing for Sedentary and Active Men and Women,’ Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, no. 96, issue 1, 2011, pp. 53-9.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21109909]
  18. JJ Duncan, NFGordon & CB Scott, ‘Women Walking for Health and Fitness: How Much Is Enough?’ JAMA, no. 266, issue 23, 1991, pp. 3295-9.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1960829]
  19. WR Frontera etal., ‘Strength training and determinants of VO2max in older men,’ Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 68, issue 1, 1990, pp. 329-33.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2312474]
  20. TA Astrino et al., ‘Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Cardiovascular Function, Vo2max, and Muscular Force’, The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, vol. 26, issue 1, 2012, pp.138-45.   [URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22201691]
  21. RP Patrick, ‘Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis,’ FoundMyFitness, n.d., available: https://www.foundmyfitness.com/reports/sauna-report.pdf.
  22. P Sreehari et al., ‘Estimation of VOmax before and after Yoga Training in Healthy Male Medical Students,’ Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, vol. 1, issue 1, 2013, pp. 26-9.   [URL: http://www.jcmad.com/allpapers/116.pdf]
  23. K Meshram, A Meshram & D Biswas, ‘Modulation of VO2max by Rajyoga meditation in young adult males,’ National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, no. 8, issue 1, 2018, pp. 42-6.  [URL: http://www.scopemed.org/?mno=1003580]Published 6 May 2018