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Exercise and your heart rate

chalk talk

You've decided to start working out to improve your cardiovascular fitness and/or lose some weight, but you're afraid that you'll over do it or won't use your time efficiently. How can you determine the appropriate level of intensity to get the most out of your routine? Monitoring your heart rate can give you the confidence to challenge yourself without going too far.

Your heart rate is influenced by both exercise intensity and level of conditioning. If you're out of shape, your heart rate will rise very quickly when exercising and take more time to lower when you stop. If you're well conditioned, it will take longer and a higher level of intensity to get your heart rate up; it will then take less time to lower (or recover) when you finish your workout.

There are two ways to check your heart rate.

  • Invest in a heart rate monitor: The cost can start at $75 and go up.
  • Count your heart rate yourself. To find your heart rate, put your fingers on the middle of the front of your neck and slowly move them to the side where you will find a groove. Then, with light pressure, feel for your heart rate (i.e., pulsing sensation). Make sure to not to use your thumb – it has a pulse of it's own.

Target Heart Rate: Using a target heart rate will help you establish your optimum activity level. To start, calculate your maximum heart using the following equation: 220 – your age

Once you know this number, use the following percentages to determine where you want to be for a particular workout session:

  • When starting out, use a 55% target level: (220 – age) x .55
  • To lose weight, use a longer duration workout at 60-75%:
    (220 – age) x .60
  • To take the next step in fitness using an interval workout, stay within the 65-85% range: (220 – age) x .70

To eliminate the math, calculate the number of beats per ten seconds that will put you into your selected target range. For example, if a 40-year old wants to stay at 60% target level:

(220 – 40) x .60 = 108 beats per minute or 18 beats for a ten second count.

Remember, these percentages are guidelines. If you have a hard time maintaining these intensity levels, listen to your body and slow down. Before starting any exercise program, always check with your physician.

For more information about cardiovascular exercise or other sports medicine topics, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.