When it's time to jump on a treadmill or join a spinning class, it can often be a challenge to know whether you are getting in a good workout. Sure, you can judge your workout based on how much you sweat or how tired you are afterwards, but wouldn't it be much more convenient if there was a tried-and-true way to measure the efficiency of your exercise routine? Understanding just how important your heart rate is in your workouts is the first step to finding your perfect zone! In order to avoid over-exercising or under-exercising, it is essential that you are able to recognize your target heart rate and realize what it means for your overall health.
Before we get into target heart rates, it's important that we understand some basic information about heart rates in general. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you are inactive. The National Institute of Health claims that the average resting heart rate for adults is anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Athletes, or those who exercise regularly, often have a lower resting heart rate of about 40 to 60 beats per minute. Your resting heart rate is a good indicator of your aerobic fitness, so keep up those early morning jogs for improved heart health!
>> Read more: Exercises for a Healthy Heart
Figuring out your resting and target heart rates is pretty simple. To calculate your resting heart rate, remain inactive for a few minutes and then place your pointer finger and index finger on the inside of your wrist. Once you find your pulse, count how many beats there are within the next 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 4 to get the total beats per minute. Voila, your resting heart rate! You can find your heart rate during your workouts the same way; just take your pulse as you are in the midst of your exercise! To calculate your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. If you are 45, then your maximum heart rate is 175 beats per minute. Generally, if you work out routinely, exercising at 85 percent of your maximum heart rate is your target heart rate. Therefore, your target heart rate would be around 149 beats per minute. You can locate your target heart rate and your maximum heart rate based on your age and fitness level in the chart below:
Figuring out your numbers is an important step, but so is understanding what those numbers mean! If your heart rate is higher than the target heart rate for your age and fitness level, you are probably overexerting yourself and you need to decrease the intensity a bit. If your heart rate is too low, and you are consistently at a brisk or moderate pace, it's time to crank up the energy and get your blood pumping! If you are new to fitness, remember to take time building up your stamina and endurance. Try aiming for the lower end of your target zone (about 50%), and take a couple weeks to build up from there.
>> Read more: Tips for Easing Back into an Exercise Routine
Is calculating your resting and target heart rate absolutely critical to your workout program? Probably not, although it can definitely be useful in helping you to set goals for yourself. If you are exercising primarily to promote good health, then getting up off the couch is much more important than constantly monitoring your heart rate. However, if you are an athlete or you are looking to optimize your your aerobic fitness, keeping an eye on your heart rate can be a crucial element of your training. If you are interested in HIIT workouts (or high-intensity interval training), then monitoring your heart rate becomes incredibly important in knowing your peak heart rates. Also, doctors frequently recommend that patients with heart disease work to maintain their target heart rate during exercise, since strenuous activity could cause extra stress on the heart.
If monitoring your heart rate gives you an extra incentive to push yourself during your workouts, then by all means, go for it! Most workout equipment will provide convenient hand monitors for you to utilize, and heart rate monitors are easy to find and fairly inexpensive. However, if you find yourself constantly checking your monitor or reaching for the detector handles on cardio equipment instead of focusing on your workout, it may be time to ditch the monitors and try to enjoy your exercise! For more information on target heart rates, check out our sources: American Heart Association, WebMD, HPMC: Occupational Medical Services