How To Find Your Target Heart Rate

To maximize the benefits of a cardiovascular exercise, it's important to measure and know your target heart rate. When you workout within the range of your target heart rate zone, you strengthen your heart and pace yourself properly for different kinds of exercise. Working out within your target heart rate will also keep you from overexerting yourself or not pushing yourself hard enough. Your target heart rate zone is usually 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute without dangerously overexerting yourself.

Woman taking pulse

At the low end of your target zone, you're barely breaking a sweat, but at the high end of your target zone, you're soaked with sweat! If you're a beginner to a certain workout, work on the lower end of your target heart rate so you can extend the length of time for your activity and have less chance of injury. As you advance in your workouts, you can work in the middle or high end of your target heart rate zone. Here's how to calculate your target heart rate!

Find your resting heart rate: In order to calculate your target heart rate for exercise, you have to know your resting heart rate, the number of beats per minute while at rest. The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute. This number is usually lower for those who are physically fit. Your resting heart rate also rises with age. It's best to check your resting heart rate in the morning after a good night's sleep and before you get out of bed to start your day. Place your index and middle finger on your opposite wrist towards the thumb side. Press lightly and count the number of times your heart beats while breathing normally for one minute. You can try to take your resting heart rate for three mornings, then average them together to get your average resting heart rate, like this: (74+76+72)/3= 74.

Determine your maximum heart rate: Your maximum heart rate is 100 percent exertion for your heart. To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220, which represents beats per minute in this equation. Your maximum heart rate, if you are 40 years old, is 180, calculated like this: 220-4-=180 beats per minute.

mio continuous heart rate monitor
(Photo: Mio)

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Calculate your target heart rate: Your target heart rate will change for different activities or depending on your fitness level. Increase your target heart rate for a hilly jog around the neighborhood or decrease your target heart rate for a leisurely bike ride at the park. The intensity of your activity will help calculate your target heart rate. The higher intensity an activity, the higher your target intensity percentage. To determine your target heart rate, first subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. Next, multiply that number by the percentage of intensity for your target heart rate (50 percent would be .50). Lastly, add your resting heart rate to this number. This is the formula: Target Heart Rate = [(Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) × % of Intensity] + Resting Heart Rate. So, for a 50% target heart rate, using our numbers in the examples above, [(180-74) * .50]+74= 127 beats per minute. In that equation, we used the resting heart rate (74) twice. To determine your target heart rate for a higher intensity activity, just replace the percent of intensity, 50 percent or .50, with a higher number, such as 75 percent or .75.

The American Heart Association has a great chart to use if you'd rather not use the calculations listed above.

If an exercise feels too light at a certain target heart rate, push yourself a little more to raise your heart rate a bit. If an exercise feels too intense, back off and lower your heart rate. It's always important to push yourself safely and at a level you feel is appropriate for your own body. If you have any heart or medical conditions, always consult your doctor about what is right for you!

Heart monitors can be a helpful tool monitoring your heart rate while you exercise, or many exercise machines also have heart monitors built in. Otherwise, check your own pulse and hit that target heart rate while exercising!

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