Roger Marolt: Predicting future fortune-tellers will need accounting degrees
In a super-sized world where free refills are offered on 32-ounce soft drinks and a half pound of french fries is incomplete without three packets of extra salt, it is no surprise that there is a way to test your fitness level without breaking a sweat, and it has nothing to do with sitting in your favorite chair with a Thigh Master between your knees, flexing it gently like a nervous habit while focusing your concentration to get hooked on another Netflix series.
VO2max has been a stalwart fitness gauge for elite athletes. It is a measure of how efficiently your body utilizes oxygen to burn energy. It is a number that is easily compared with Lance Armstrong’s during the heyday of his shenanigans in chemistry while wearing a yellow jersey, which makes a high reading more satisfying than winning third place in your age category in a citizens 10k running race or local cycling club time trial.
The problem with measuring VO2max is that it has been difficult. The old way was to schedule an appointment at a laboratory where they would hook you up to an assortment of electrodes and stick a breathing tube into your mouth before mounting you on a treadmill where they would gradually increase the speed until your vision began to blur and all your thoughts were consumed with vomiting. The cost of this procedure was high in many ways and usually not covered by health insurance.
Today, all you need to do to get an accurate measure of your VO2max is hook your computer up to a decent Wi-Fi connection and let it do most of the work. And, yes, I did recognize the irony in doing just this on a recent snowy Saturday morning as I Googled this, that and the other things and discovered the website that administered this fitness test while I sipped coffee, only lifting my fingers enough to type.
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I urge you to go to worldfitnesslevel.org the next dreary weekend morning this offseason and give yourself this entertainment of discovering how fit you really are and, at the end, getting the added bonus of receiving an estimate of your effective age.
It sounds like nothing more than an amusement, but apparently this test is legitimate (I Googled other sources about it). The researchers who put this together have created a sweat-free test that predicts your VO2max with remarkable accuracy simply by asking you a series of questions, the answers to which have proven to be statistically significant in predicting this vaunted measure of health. You read that right. Nobody knows why, but based on statistical evidence, VO2max might be the greatest known predictor of heart health and the longevity of your life.
Welcome to the expanding field of data mining. If you have never heard of it, you will soon. It is one of the most rapidly growing career opportunities. Colleges are offering degree programs in it. It is predicted to be a profitable blend of accounting, economics and programing for those who become proficient at the combination.
There are a lot of data out there. We have given loads of information about us away. Through social media, online shopping and websurfing, there is enough information out there to allow super-computers to get to know us intimately.
When gigantic computers mash and amalgamate unimaginable volumes of data through their circuits, they can make connections between events, occurrences, habits, history,and circumstances in our lives and pinpoint common outcomes. By micro-analyzing the things we do, they can predict with great accuracy likely outcomes.
Think of it this way: Traditional non-science has told us that green M&Ms might sometimes be potent aphrodisiacs. Computers, fed massive amounts of data from all over the globe, can sort through it, singling out M&M eaters, and determine things that are more common to them than others. Through this process they might figure out that green M&Ms only make your eyes crossed and have no effect on raising your level of arousal. They cannot tell us why this happens, only that it does. Either way, we can stop sorting our candy.
Data mining can give us the answers that scientists of the future will need to formulate questions for. It’s sort of the reverse order for the way things have always been done. It is a brave new world where bean counters will be able to diagnose our health issues more accurately than doctors can. For now, I think it is enough for us to contemplate how the waist size of our pants compared to what it was in high school and how often we eat pickled fish on bread can accurately predict how physically fit we are.
Roger Marolt never acquired the taste for pickled herring. Email at email@example.com.
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