Discovery Vitality research: How to increase your VO2 max to reduce death risk by 30%

A new white paper released by Discovery Vitality emphasises the need to view cardiorespiratory fitness (measured as VO2 max) as an important health risk metric. Insights were drawn from Discovery’s unique data, including lifestyle information, clinical screening results, and insurance claims data. The findings show the tangible benefits of prioritising cardiorespiratory fitness which dramatically reduced risk of developing – and dying from – cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and diabetes, among other conditions.

Linked to these insights, Discovery Vitality announced the launch of two exciting updates to the programme aimed at enhancing the health outcomes of its members. They are a new rewards points metric based on cardiorespiratory fitness level, and a first-of-its-kind exercise platform called Vitality Fitness. The new platform brings a new level of convenience and access to Vitality members, enabling them to view and book an extensive range of workouts provided by a network of gyms and fitness studios around the country. Members access the booking platform through the Discovery app and can book classes in a few taps.

My vision is that the insights from this research on cardiorespiratory fitness help inform the global effort to combat the growing epidemic of physical inactivity and its associated health risks. We’re continually exploring ways to incentivise and promote healthier lifestyles among our members, and it’s important that these are backed by research and enabled through the smart use of technology to fit easily into people’s lives. Dinesh Govender, Vitality SA CEO

VO2 max: A key metric for overall health

Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to how well your respiratory and circulatory systems supply your body with enough oxygen to keep exercising. VO2 max is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use when you’re exercising. As your VO2 max increases, so does your aerobic endurance and ultimately your cardiorespiratory fitness.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is a powerful indicator of one’s potential for a long and healthy life, as even a moderate improvement in VO2 max can reduce risk of death by 21-30%. By understanding and improving VO2 max, individuals can reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and diabetes.

Vitality’s newly published white paper on navigating cardio fitness for optimal health outcomes highlights the critical role of cardio fitness in health management: Vitality members with higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels experience 30% lower hospital claims, and exhibit 95% lower prevalence of obesity, 84% lower prevalence of high-risk blood glucose levels, and 70% lower prevalence of high blood pressure.

While many may think that their genes largely determine their cardiorespiratory fitness level, this research revealed the importance of forming good habits: Vitality’s fittest members tend to exercise more frequently, for longer, and at higher intensities. Vitality members with higher cardio fitness levels also tend to have earlier bedtimes, earlier wake up times, and longer sleep durations. All in all, members with higher Vitality statuses exhibited higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

Through advancements in wearable technology and the Vitality Fitness Assessment, our members can easily estimate their VO2 max. This cardio fitness measurement serves as a valuable benchmark for overall health. Our new white paper provides comprehensive research insights, practical guidelines, and tailored pathways to help members understand and improve their VO2 max. Dr. Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Vitality SA

Prof Jon Patricios, Professor of Sports and Exercise Medicine at Wits University, adds, “In a country with stretched health resources and large disparities in access to care, there is an accessible and affordable solution: optimal cardiorespiratory fitness. The prescription of aerobic-based exercise provides some of the most effective disease prevention strategies and should be our core lifestyle intervention.”

From July 2024 onwards, Vitality members will be incentivised to know and improve their VO2 max and can earn up to 10,000 Vitality points.

VO2 max readings will be categorised into five Vitality Cardio Fitness Levels: low, fair, good, excellent, and superior. While there is no single ideal VO2 max, everyone should strive to improve to the next level due to the health benefits. The greatest health benefits are seen in individuals who move from a low to a fair level, with additional benefits realised as one improves to a good or higher level. For most people, reaching a good Vitality Cardio Fitness Level for their age and gender is a great milestone and will provide the health protection needed to live a long, healthy life.

“By rewarding Vitality members for knowing and improving their cardio fitness, we are not only encouraging varied exercise intensities and durations but also helping them protect their health and extend their lifespans,” says Govender.

Vitality Fitness: A one-tap, first-of-its-kind fitness platform

In conjunction with the release of the white paper, Vitality also announced the launch of Vitality Fitness.

“According to the latest WHO research, one in three adults do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity, contributing to a significant disease burden. Building on over 25 years of experience in promoting physical activity and helping Vitality members get healthier, we are revolutionising the way our members exercise with the launch of Vitality Fitness – an integrated exercise ecosystem that caters to individual needs, both at the gym and beyond, giving Vitality members access to a broader range of exercise options,” Govender says.

Vitality Fitness offers Vitality members free visits to a world of workout opportunities at their fingertips:

  • Easily browse, search, and filter fitness facilities by location and different exercise categories, making it simple to find and book the perfect workout.
  • Book and try various fitness activities with two free visits to any facility in the Vitality network across the country each month.
  • For those looking to join a gym, Vitality Fitness offers an impressive 75% discount on local club memberships at Virgin Active or Planet Fitness, with the option to activate memberships directly through the platform.
  • Vitality Members can engage in a variety of exercises and earn 100 Vitality points daily.
  • Vitality Fitness launches with access to over 300 boutique facilities, gyms and padel courts, with ambitions to keep growing.

“Through innovative, technology-driven solutions, we are breaking down barriers such as cost, access, and lack of motivation, making it easier for Vitality members to engage in physical activity and improve both their cardio fitness and overall health. I’m excited about the potential of these initiatives to transform lives, empowering our members to achieve their health and fitness goals more effectively than ever before,” Govender adds.

Download the research paper here: Navigating Cardiorespiratory Fitness for Optimal Health.

About Vitality Global

Vitality is part of Discovery Limited, a worldwide insurer and investment manager impacting more than 40 million members in over 40 markets worldwide, across Europe, the United States, Australia, Africa, Canada and China.

Vitality pioneered the ‘shared-value’ insurance model, a unique approach based on the scientifically proven principles of behavioural economics. Through this model, Vitality helps members take a more active role in managing their own wellness, encouraging them to develop healthy long-term habits that are good for them, good for the company and good for society. The effect is positive for all stakeholders – members benefit from better health, financial rewards and additional incentives; employers’ benefit from healthier, more productive, and more engaged employees; and Vitality benefits from a healthier membership base.

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