Cardio Fitness levels feature on Apple Watch, here’s what you should know

Cardio Fitness level and Apple Fitness+

We fully expect Apple’s upcoming iOS 14.3 and watchOS 7.2 to unveil the new Fitness+ service along with a new feature called Cardio Fitness levels.

Although this looks like a new feature, it’s actually a rebranding of the older VO2max. Apple renamed VO2max to Cardio Fitness–to make it more user friendly!

We really like this rebrand because the Cardio Fitness feature lets users know via notifications if they are trending with low cardio fitness levels.

Related Reading:

Why your cardio fitness matters

With this latest update, Apple is leveraging VO2 max scores to show a user’s cardio fitness levels.

Cardio fitness is a strong indicator of your physical health. You maintain or improve your cardio fitness with physical activity.

And conversely, a decrease in physical activity also corresponds to a lowering of your overall cardio fitness level.

What factors determine your cardio fitness?

Many factors determine your cardio fitness levels.

Your age, sex, lung conditions, and heart conditions (resting heart rate) are the primary determinants.Low Cardio Fitness notification on Apple Watch

VO2 max is the gold standard for establishing and personalizing each person’s cardio fitness level.

VO2 Max stands for: V (volume)  + O2 (oxygen)  + Max (maximum)

It’s a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use while exercising or engaging in any form of physical and aerobic activity.

The Apple Watch leverages the VO2 max standard to determine and assign a score for your cardio fitness level.

What is a good score for Apple’s cardio fitness level (VO2 Max)?

Apple Watch leverages the VO2 max score to determine the value for each person’s Cardio Fitness level.

Generally, varying VO2 max scores indicate:

  • 15 – 30 signifies a low cardio fitness level
  • A score between 30 – 38 is considered average to above average cardio fitness
  • Anything above 40 qualifies as a high cardio fitness level

However, this greatly varies with a person’s age and gender.

For example, a female above 60 years is considered low at 15, above average at 20, and high at anything above 25!Good Cardio Fitness level score on Apple Watch

So it’s crucial to review the cardio fitness levels for your current gender and age before checking your current cardio fitness level.

The philosophy behind this change is apparent from Apple’s guidance which was released along with iOS 14.3 today :

In a 2016 scientific statement, the American Heart Association recognized a growing link between low cardio fitness and a higher risk of significant health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, later in life. Research even suggests cardio fitness is a stronger predictor of mortality risk than common risk factors like smoking, diabetes, and hypertension.
 
“Cardio fitness is increasingly recognized as a powerful predictor of overall health, and with today’s update to watchOS 7, we are making it even more accessible to more people,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “Using its advanced sensors, Apple Watch now brings estimation of low cardio fitness levels from clinics directly to a user’s wrist, so people have more insight into how they can improve their long-term health through daily activity.”

How to enable or disable Cardio Fitness Level notifications on your Apple Watch

The cardio fitness level notifications are easy to enable or disable using the Watch app on your iPhone.

  • Open the Watch app on your iPhone
  • Tap on ‘My Watch’ at the bottom
  • Next, tap on Notifications and scroll down and select ‘Heart
  • Find ‘Cardio Fitness Notifications’ hereEnable or Disable Cardio fitness level notifications
  • Toggle the setting on to enable or off to disable these notifications

Per Apple, if your cardio fitness level stays low for an extended period (months, not days), you receive a notification every four months.

Since the calculation of Cardio fitness level depends on your resting heart rate (RHR), Apple recommends you wear your watch when you sleep to get an accurate score.

Typically individuals with higher VO2 Max have lower heart rates while running at the same pace than individuals with lower VO2 Max.

Why does Apple call it cardio fitness instead of VO2 Max?

The VO2 max health metric isn’t well-known, and for most people, there was a lot of confusion around it. Indeed, most people ignored it because they didn’t understand it!

Hence, Apple rebranded it as an overall Cardio Fitness Level score on the Apple Watch and the Health app.

And most of us know what both cardio and fitness mean–and can easily translate it into our heart’s health.

Cardio Fitness Level on Fitbit
Fitbit app Cardio Fitness level score

Apple is not the first when it comes to using this term.

Fitbit also uses a Cardio fitness score via the Fitbit app and calculates it using the VO2 max metric.

How do you improve your Cardio fitness level score?

There are two ways to improve your Cardio fitness level score: exercise and healthy weight loss. 

  • Weight loss lowers your body fat percentage and helps with improving your cardio fitness levels.
  • Increased exercise helps you improve your cardio fitness score by up to 20 percent over a period of two to three months (source: Kennedy, Phys. of Sport and Exer.). 

How much exercise do I need to do to get an average cardio fitness score?

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends:

“at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity)” 

Tip: Add high-intensity interval exercises!

Incorporating high-intensity intervals in your workouts is an effective way to see a noticeable improvement.

Interval training includes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity followed by periods of lower intensity activity or rest.

This type of episodic interval training has proven to be one of the best levers to increase your VO2 max and, therefore, your cardio fitness level.

Apple Fitness+ Workout Modes

This is where Apple Fitness+ comes in handy!

Apple’s Fitness+ subscription offers several trainer-led classes that focus not only on High-intensity interval training.

But these workouts also guide users through different workouts that assist with improving the Cardio Fitness levels.

Plus, all classes offer modifications so people of any fitness level can join in!

Apple's Fitness Plus new BURN BAR

As a Fitness+ student, another awesome feature to leverage is Apple’s unique Burn bar.

The Burn Bar shows how your current workout intensity and effort stacks up against anyone who previously did that same workout.

This Burn Bar helps you push through your workout to get the most out of high-intensity fitness training class for people who love a little competition.

Summary

Understanding your cardio fitness level helps you know more about yourself and take ownership of your body and exercise routines.

How do you stay fit today and access your overall cardio performance?

What features on the Apple Watch help you access your overall fitness levels.

Please let us know using the comments below.

I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products and have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. In my day job, I advise fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health&fitness-tech evolution and keep a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch or Fossil Gen 5 LTE and keep a close eye on my HRV and other recovery metrics.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello. I thought of sharing my feedback to correct the issue if any in calculating VO2 max.

    I recently shifted from Fitbit to Apple watch… my cardio fitness levels were recorded as “Excellent” for the past 2+ years with a score of 51-54 in my Fitbit, however, apple showing a range of 35-37 this is below average range..

    I assume a change in the device should not show much variance.. earlier one very well matching with my fitness level and workout, however, data from apple which is indicating a different fitness level, which one to believe?

    if need data from both devices for reference happy to share it.

    Regards, Ananda Rao. C

    • Ananda Rao. C,

      Hi Ananda,

      Are you wearing your Apple Watch when you sleep? Wearing it while sleeping gets a better resting heart rate estimate than during the day. So try wearing your Apple Watch overnight and see it makes any difference in your cardio fitness level according to Apple Watch.

      Also, verify that your information for age, gender, weight, and other personal information is correct.

  2. Hi, my name is David, and I have a relatively new Apple Watch.

    The cardio fitness measured on the high level for several months and then all of a sudden went down to below average from about 50 down to 25 where it stays.

    I walk about three or 4 miles a day and have fairly good health.

    Nothing seems to have changed and I’m wondering if the watch has a defective measurement light or something else that could cause this to all of a sudden go from above average to below average.

    My cardiologist took a look at it and thought that the watch wasn’t very accurate. I’m still not satisfied

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