These days every type of fitness or wellness tracker has its own measurement to tell you how fit you are. Usually this is some variation of a cardio, weight, or nutrition rating bundled into one number and compared across groups. The Health Mate Fitness score is no different. It appears in the popular Health Mate app that goes with most Withings products.
The Withings Health Mate app has a “fitness score”. It is a rating between 17 and 60, and also corresponds with a poor to excellent rating. It is a specific combination of heart rate during exercise, VO2 max, and age/gender info, but that exact calculation is not disclosed. These are calculated as estimates by watches like the Withings Steel HR monitor and Apple Watch which have not only pulse sensors but also blood oxygen sensors (O2 sensors). The app can update and identify a score so long as you are doing some moderate activity on a regular basis. It can read from a number of inputs, so you do not need to have a Withings device to be able to generate a score.
Is your Health Mate score not updating regularly? A score will only be calculated if you are taking part in some sort of activity. Although it does take into consideration, the primary reading is related to how much oxygen you are moving through your blood stream or body. Because it is an estimate of the peak value the score is only generated when you do a hard and long workout. The limits to this change slightly, Apple Watch says that you need to do at least a 20 minute workout before it will calculate a VO2 max score while Withings says they will generate one after as short as 10 minute workout. Even so, it’s possible to do an easy 10 minute run (or even a hard one) and for a portion of the data to not have good heart rate and therefore be dropped. If you want to force an update to the score it is best to plan to do about a 30 minute hard cardio effort to be sure the data will be available.
Best way to improve Health Mate Fitness Score or Apple VO2 Max Cardio Rating
No surprise here, do more cardio. If you are looking for all around fitness levels these scores may be the wrong measure. If you want to build muscle the score rates might not see any change and may even drop. The fitness score is more of a lagging indicator, in that it gives you some sense of how efficient you are becoming but it is a difficult metric to try to specifically train.
But if you want to improve your Cardio the easiest way is to do more of it at a lower rate. Unlike weight training where progressive overloading (adding incrementally more weight) seems to work, Cardio works on making the easier stuff easier. Building up a huge base of cardio efforts will be one of the most efficient ways to see a change in your fitness score. These cardio efforts do not have to be that hard, even regular walks can go a long way to increasing cardio efficient and it will show up when you do a harder effort (one that is sufficient enough to generate a score).
Apple shows a fitness score that is similar to Withings and has a VO2 max score. In the same way they put bands around V02 max at different levels to show if yours is excellent, good, or less than stellar.
Many people follow heart rate training plans for this. The basic idea is run (or do another cardio activity) at an easy date. Something you can maintain for 1+ hours even if you only do it for 30 minutes. If you are running, and used to doing it to work hard, can be harder to actually run so easily. The true definition of easy often has people slowing down to a pace they think isn’t doing anything, but it is.
Often people say they are working out with easy cardio, and are really pushing too hard. Take it easy, but don’t take this too far though. It’s still important to sprinkle in some hard cardio on occasion, and it is required to be able to allow the score calculations to update. The goal is to be intentional, if you are going easy, then the recovery from it should also be easy. To some extent you shouldn’t even feel like you did much.
If you can run a 9 minute mile pace for half an hour, running 11-12 minute pace might be what you need. Over time this easy pace will creep itself up. As the old adage goes “you are only as strong as your weakest link”, the same idea applies. If your super slow pace gets faster, everything about you is getting faster and more importantly your body is going to get much better at processing cardio.
Why is this going slow good for health? While for one it makes it so much easier to maintain a plan and not get hurt. Stacking weeks of hard efforts onto your body, especially as part of a new program can put your body under a lot of stress. You can see this with some of the at home tests like Vessel and Vivoo, which show cortisol levels. Going slow will make your tired (and therefore help your sleep) but not make you injured.
Will losing weight help my VO2 max or health mate fitness score?
Again, yes. The readings for a VO2 max are taken in ml/kg/min. Because this rating includes a per kilograms, or by extension pounds, component it means that as your weight changes so will the reading. So all things being equal if you are processing the same amount of oxygen in a given time, but weigh less, then the VO2 max value will be higher.
There is a limit to this though. For the most part muscle will consume oxygen more quickly. So you need more muscle mass to improve the rate at which you use oxygen and losing muscle mass weight can change both sides of the equation.
Different body types will also inherently have different fitness scores. It’s commonly accepted that top cyclists have the best fitness scores by these standards. That’s because they over index in the huge muscle groups of the upper legs, and have very little mass in the upper body. The trade off in greater mass is overcome because the mass is in such efficient muscle. By these scores even top athletes in certain sports still won’t have better scores than top amateur cyclists.
Some studies confirm that having more muscle mass, compared to fat mass, helps with VO2 max.
So if you want to improve your Withings Health Mate Fitness score, that’s what you should be focused on. She’d a few extra pounds, and do so by over indexing on Cardio. Keep in mind though, if you are in or around the excellent levels, that your specific training or body type might not be benefitted by optimizing entirely for this rating.
Annoyingly the Health Mate App doesn’t show a long term trend for its score. You can make one yourself since it moves slowly, but it doesn’t produce a pretty trend line like so many other trackers.
The app also doesn’t provide much by the way of recommendations. It says you can improve by being active 2-3 days over the course of a month. For some this is actual a decline in physical activity so it’s unclear if it is personalize or just generic advice.