It’s A Simple Calculation: Your Heart Rate Is The Key To Better Workouts


Recently, I’ve begun to deviate from my usual running pattern. That is, start slow, build to a steady but fast pace and then run hard at the end. Not very scientific, is it.

I know that lots of people check their heart rate while they exercise, but I never have until now. Turns out, it’s simple and the science behind it seems to be universally accepted.

Do you know your maximum heart rate? What about your target heart rate?

I’ve learned that anyone who exercises should know those two figures, because they help you get the most from any workout, even if you’re only exercising 20 minutes a day.

It also helps to know your resting heart rate. Let’s start with that.

When you wake up in the morning, take your pulse before getting out of bed. Hold your fingers to the side of your neck or wrist and count your pulse for 10 seconds. Multiply that number by 6 to get your resting heart rate. The average is 60 to 80 beats per minute, but the number is lower for athletes, and it increases as you age.

Your maximum heart rate is the your highest heart rate during maximum exercise. It varies by age and here’s how to calculate it.

Start with the number 220 and simply subtract your age. That number is your estimated maximum heart rate. So if you are 40 years old, 220 minus 40 is 180 beats per minute.

Now that you have your maximum heart rate, you can calculate your target heart rate.  Most exercise professionals believe your exercise training zone should be performed at 60 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, though many are beginning to suggest that the most benefits can be earned at the lower end of the zone.

So that 40-year-old with the maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute? She should exercise with her heart rate in between 108 beats per minute and 144 beats per minute.

Another easy way to calculate your target heart rate? Try the Mayo Clinic heart rate calculator. Why? Because when you exercise within your target heart rate you get the most benefit from exercise with the least risk.  That’s where you’ll burn more body fat, decrease blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.  About 85% of the calories burned in the target zone are from fat.

Most exercise professionals recommend that you don’t exercise above 85% of your target heart rate zone. The additional health-related benefits are few, and the health risks is increased.

Your target heart rate determined by this method is only an estimate. There are other, more complicated formulas that take age, gender and other factors into consideration, or you could work with a professional who can determine your rates and zones with a treadmill test.

If you’re taking medications, are overweight or have other medical conditions, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

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