Exercise and Target Heart Rate

If you are in any way involved on the exercise circuit, you hear a lot about target heart rate—achieving it, measuring it, and maintaining it.

Target heart rate is the goal you should attempt to reach when doing any type of aerobic exercise in order to gain the greatest benefit. It is measured as a range and, depending on your present level of exercise or fitness, you may want to start at the lower end of the range and work your way up. It is also to be used as a guide, based on age.

As with any type of exercise program, you need to keep in mind that target heart rate is only a guide. Because every person is different, you need to pay close attention to how you feel, your breathing, and your heart beat so you can avoid overexertion or straining yourself. In addition, you should not use target heart rate if you are taking certain medications (i.e., beta-blockers) or have a heart condition or other illness that could affect your heart without first checking with a health care professional.

Here is a simple formula to help you determine your target heart rate:
  • Subtract your current age from 220. The remainder is your maximum heart rate in beats per minute. (This general guideline is used for a person with a resting heart range of 70-85 beats per minute.)
  • Determine the 70% and 80% level of your maximum heart rate to get your optimal target heart range. To do this, multiply your maximum heart rate number by 0.7 and by 0.8. The numbers you get are your target heart range – 70% is the low-end number and 80% is the high-end number.
  • Learn how to take your pulse. The best places are on the carotid artery in your neck (halfway between your chin and your shoulders) or the radial artery in your wrist. Use your index and middle fingers to feel your pulse in either of these areas
  • When taking your pulse during your workout, count your number of heartbeats for 10 seconds and then multiply the number times six to make sure you are in your target heart beat range.
  • Try to stay within your target heart range for the duration of your workout. Take your pulse at regular intervals to make sure you are staying within the target heart range. If your heart rate is too fast, slow down a bit. If it is too slow, speed up or increase the intensity of your workout.
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