The skeptical cardiologist routinely probes his patients’ activity and exercise levels and encourages them to engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly. However, I’m somewhat skeptical of the benefit of treating such assessments as a vital sign (like blood pressure or heart rate) as a recent AHA scientific statement suggests.
I can only envision still another item on a chart checklist that will have to be recorded in the EHR or already over-worked physicians will have their payments withheld.
The AHA statement suggests that ideally we should be measuring our patients’ fitness by obtaining maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) utilizing an expensive and rarely utilized cardiopulmonary exercise test. Failing that we should consider doing a treadmill stress test. Failing that, rather than utilizing my simple question to patients: “How active have you been?”, the statement recommends doctors utilize some sort of formal questionnaire to estimate their patients’ cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) such as the one at World Fitness Level.
I went online to take this CRF estimator (based on this paper) and I remain skeptical.
The online site and a free smartphone app both ask the following questions:
- Country and City
- Highest Level of Education
- Resting and Maximal Pulse
- How often do you exercise?
- How long is your workout each time? (over/under 30 minutes)
- How hard do you train? (I had to choose between “I go all out”or “Little hard breathing and sweating”)
When you have finished answering the questions you are given an estimate of your fitness age. When I did this online a few days ago and answered truthfully I got the result to the right: I had the fitness of a 41 year old with an estimated VO2 max of 49 ! (interestingly this estimate corresponds exactly with VO2 max derived from a recent stress test I completed.)
I used the app (which unlike the online version did not ask me my waistline measurement) and changed a few parameters:
- I increased my resting heart rate or pulse from 60 to 68 beats per minute (BPM)
- I increased my maximal heart rate from what I know is 158 BPM to what the app calculated (173 BPM, which makes no sense)
- I switched from exercising 2-3 times per week and longer than 30 minutes at “all out” level to the lowest level for all 3 questions.
The app and online site direct you to a non-profit site where you can get information on a 7 week program to increase your fitness level. I haven’t checked this out.
I’ll be trying out this CRF estimator on my patients: assessing whether it adds anything to my usual line of questioning on activity and fitness.
I encourage you to give the CRF estimator a try. Let me know in the comments how you feel it works for you. Does it motivate you to exercise more knowing that, for example, your fitness age is substantially higher than your chronological age?