How do you get your heart rate on target?
When you work out, are you doing too much or not enough? There’s a simple way to know: Your target heart rate helps you hit the bull’s eye. “We don’t want people to over-exercise, and the other extreme is not getting enough exercise,” says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a cardiologist and professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla.
First Things First
Before you learn how to calculate and monitor your target training heart rate, you have to know your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute while it’s at rest. You can check it in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep and before you get out of bed.
According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate:
- for children 10 years and older, and adults (including seniors) is 60 – 100 beats per minute
- for well-trained athletes is 40 – 60 beats per minute.
Hittin’ the Target
Now you’re ready to determine your target training heart rate. As you exercise, periodically:
- Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
- Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist.
- Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute. You want to stay between 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This range is your target heart rate.
Know Your Numbers
This table shows estimated target heart rates for different ages. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age.
In the age category closest to yours, read across to find your target heart rate. Heart rate during moderately intense activities is about 50-69% of your maximum heart rate, whereas heart rate during hard physical activity is about 70% to less than 90% of the maximum heart rate.
The figures are averages, so use them as general guidelines.
Important Note: A few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you’re taking such medicine, call your physician to find out if you need to use a lower target heart rate.
So what’s in a number?
If your heart rate is too high, you’re straining. So slow down. If it’s too low, and the intensity feels “light” or “moderate/brisk,” you may want to push yourself to exercise a little harder.
During the first few weeks of working out, aim for the lower ranger of your target zone (50 percent) and gradually build up to the higher range (85 percent). After six months or more, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
“It’s not an absolute, but it’s a good tool to have,” says Fletcher, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “And if you don’t know it, remember, if you’re not able to carry on a conversation (while exercising), that may be a bit too much.”
If you have a heart condition or you’re in cardiac rehab, talk to a healthcare professional about what exercises you can engage in, what your target heart rate should be and whether you need to be monitored during physical activity. This will also help you to choose the types of physical activity that are appropriate for your current fitness level and health goals, because some activities are safer than others.