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Cardiovascular endurance, also known as cardiorespiratory endurance, can be measured by simple fitness tests to assess how well your body functions to bring oxygen to muscles during exercise. This measurement can be used to assess overall health.

What is cardiovascular endurance?

Cardiovascular endurance refers to the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system when continuously performing full-body exercises at moderate to high intensities.1 An emphasis is placed on how well the system’s main components – the heart, blood vessels, and blood itself – are able to function and interact with the body’s muscles and lungs.

There are distinct relationships between levels of cardiovascular endurance and certain health risk factors, such as adiposity or obesity.1

What fitness tests measure cardiovascular endurance?

When it comes to measuring cardiovascular endurance, the ‘gold standard’ is obtaining a reading of maximal aerobic power, also referred to as VO2 max.1 This measurement is typically taken in a laboratory while the person is running continuously on a treadmill, or cycling on an ergometer.1

The value of this maximum rate will typically be expressed as ‘litres of oxygen consumed per minute’ or in ‘milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute’ to account for variation in body types.1

Aside from this gold standard, there are many different ways of measuring cardiovascular endurance outside of a lab setting. These fitness tests may be performed alongside a qualified fitness instructor for more accurate results.

Many variations of fitness tests that measure cardiovascular endurance exist. Specifically, some tests rely on the time required for an individual to run a chosen distance – typically 1-1.5 miles.1 On the other hand, it is also common to come across fitness tests that measure the distance that a person can run over a specified time period – typically 9-12 minutes.1

Overall, the most common structure of these tests that measure cardiovascular endurance involves a set of timed runs with varying distance and pace.1

Shuttle runs: the standard shuttle run and variations

Many variations of these timed runs that are used to this day fall under the category of shuttle runs. Shuttle runs attempt to estimate someone’s cardiovascular endurance by having the individual run back and forth between two marked points that are usually 20 meters apart.1 Designed this way, shuttle runs both encourage children to give the fitness test their maximal effort and are able to make valid predictions on the cardiovascular endurance of most individuals, regardless of their weight.2

Drawing inspiration from the design of a standard shuttle run, assessments like the Multistage Fitness Test, Beep test, or PACER, push their participants to run back and forth between two points. These specific fitness tests use audio tracks with beeping noises to push runners to complete their laps during time intervals that get consecutively shorter.1

During these fitness tests, runners must jog or sprint between the set boundaries until they are eliminated for not being able to complete a round within the designated time, marked by a beep. Once a runner is eliminated, their score may be compared to a range of scores listed in a chart or handbook that is associated with the fitness test. From there, an estimate of their cardiovascular endurance relative to others can be made with confidence.

Rockport walk test

While the previous fitness tests require people to run exhausting distances at intense paces, the Rockport Walk Test may be better suited for those who are less athletic. The advantages of this fitness test are that it can be self-administered and requires minimal equipment.3

In order to get a measurement of VO2 max that corresponds to cardiovascular endurance, the Rockport Walk Test first requires an individual to walk as fast as possible over the span of 1 mile, or approximately 1.6 kilometers. Immediately after walking this distance, the person must determine their minute heart rate – either by manually counting the beats of their pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying by 6 or by using a digital heart rate monitor.3Males and females can input their age, weight, walk time and heart rate into separate equations to determine a valid estimation of their VO2 max.4

Improving cardiovascular endurance

A study published in 2013 has demonstrated that adding circuit training programs to physical education settings in schools was effective at increasing cardiovascular endurance in children.5 For this reason, it may be suggested that physical education teachers begin designing programs that encourage students to begin improving their cardiovascular endurance levels from a young age.5

Tracking and improving cardiovascular endurance through regular physical activity is widely accepted as a means of preventing and managing certain conditions like hypertension.6 In addition, studies indicate that the increased physical activity which may come from efforts to measure and improve cardiovascular endurance can reduce blood pressure.6


  1. Pate, R. R., Oria, M., & Pillsbury, L. (2012). Fitness measures and health outcomes in youth. National Academies Press.
  2. Voss, C., & Sandercock, G. (2009). Does the Twenty Meter Shuttle-Run Test Elicit Maximal Effort in 11- to 16-Year-Olds? Pediatric Exercise Science, 21(1), 55–62. doi:10.1123/pes.21.1.55
  3. Wood, R. (2008). Rockport walk Test. Topend Sports, science, training and nutrition. https://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/rockport.htm.
  4. Kline, G. M., Porcari, J. P., Hintermeister, R., Freedson, P. S., Ward, A., McCarron, R. F., Ross, J., & Rippe, J. M. (1987). Estimation of VO2max from a one-mile track walk, gender, age, and body weight. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 19(3), 253–259.
  5. Mayorga-Vega, D., Viciana, J., & Cocca, A. (2013). Effects of a Circuit Training Program on Muscular and Cardiovascular Endurance and their Maintenance in Schoolchildren. Journal of human kinetics, 37, 153–160. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2013-0036
  6. Cornelissen, V. A., & Fagard, R. H. (2005). Effects of endurance training on blood pressure, blood pressure-regulating mechanisms, and cardiovascular risk factors. Hypertension (Dallas, Tex. : 1979), 46(4), 667–675. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.HYP.0000184225.05629.51

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