Health topics: Finding, and understanding, your heart rate while you exercise

Exercise and heart rate

The key to exercising right is not about your body type, or the latest fitness fad, or even, horror of horrors, performance pills or herbal supplements. It’s simply about exercising at the right intensity for your fitness goals, no matter if you want to firm up flab, maintain your weight, or become a tri-athlete.

But how do you know when you are meeting the required intensity and really putting your body to the test? It’s easy, and it’s with you at all times – your heartbeat. Getting your heart pumping is a fantastic measure of how much stress you’re putting on your body. Getting to a certain number of beats per minute places you in different “heart rate zones,” some of which are more effective at burning fat, others for increasing your stamina.

One way to gauge your current fitness level is to find your “resting heart rate.” This is the number of times your heart beats in one minute while at you are at rest. The more fit your body, the less beats per minute it takes your heart to pump blood throughout your frame.

Exercise and heart rate

The best time to find your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning while you are still in bed, after a good night’s rest. The heart usually beats about 60–80 times a minute while we are resting, and is s good way to find one’s target exercise heart rate.

The next step is to find your maximum heart rate. According to the American Medical Association, your maximum heart rate is generally a set number minus your age. The numbers differ for men and women only slightly. Men should use the number 220 when trying to determine their target heart rate; women, the number 226. This number is the fastest that your heart can beat. For example, Bob Jones, a 35-year old man, has a maximum heart rate of 185 beats per minute.

Now, armed with both your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate, it is very easy to find your range of potential training heart rate intensities. This number, called the “heart rate reserve,” is the difference between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. Let’s look at Bob again – with a resting heart rate of 70, and a maximum heart rate of 185, the window of potential for Bob’s heart is 115 beats per minute. The greater the difference, the larger your heart’s training potential.

Your target exercise heart rate, the number which you should strive to reach while doing aerobic exercise such as running or fast walking, is between 65 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Although a heart monitor is the best way to keep track of your heart rate, it’s not hard to calculate your target exercise heart rate with a simple equation. For Bob to find his target zone, subtract the age, 35, from 220. Maximum heart rate equals 185. Now, the zone is between 65 and 85 percent of the maximum heart rate, so this 35-year old man should aim for between 120–157 beats per minute.

There are different zones according to what you hope to accomplish with your exercise program. If you are looking to maintain a healthy heart and get fit, then you should aim for a heart rate of between 50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you want to lose weight and burn fat, then your intensity should raise you into the 60-70 percent zone.

To increase your stamina and aerobic endurance, 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate should place the appropriate amount of effort on your body. For those who consider themselves in shape and desire further conditioning, aiming for anywhere from 80-100 percent of the maximum heart rate will help maintain a fitness level of “excellent.”

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