Exercise and Target Heart Rates

Exercise appears on nearly every list of ways to improve health and reduce risk for heart disease. It can take many different forms, and everyone should be able to find some sort of exercise they enjoy, whether it’s walking, biking, playing sports, or another favorite activity. 

One excellent barometer of exercise intensity is your heart rate — the number of times your heart beats each minute. Heart rate is influenced by a range of factors. Certainly, exercise intensity plays a role, but other factors like heat and humidity, altitude, stress, and emotion can all increase heart rate. On a hot day or a day when you are experiencing stress, your heart rate may be higher even at rest, so be aware of these outside factors that can impact how your body responds to exercise and adjust your workout when needed.

The term “target heart rate” refers to the optimal range for your exercise — the range of heart rate that will provide a beneficial workout but not overexert the body. For individuals with an existing heart condition, it’s especially important to not overexert during exercise and cause unnecessary stress to the heart. 

Target heart rate is often expressed as a percentage of your maximum heart rate, or the fastest your heart can safely beat. The quickest way to find your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220. For a 50-year-old, the maximum heart rate would be 220 minus 50 and so equal 170 bpm. For a 40-year-old, it is 160 bpm. 

Once you know your maximum heart rate, your target heart rate for exercise is generally 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. So, a 50-year-old’s target would be between 102 and 136 bpm. In some cases, such as people with existing heart conditions, your doctor may lower the percentage, so it’s always best to consult with them when creating an exercise routine. 

Once you have your target heart rate, the second step is to track your heart rate during exercise. You can pause exercising to take your pulse manually. Using two fingers, press lightly on the side of your neck, count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6. Another option is to use an exercise tracker. Now more than ever, it’s easy to track health statistics with activity trackers and smart watches. This option can track heart rate in real time and help keep a workout at a safe, healthy intensity while still providing cardiac benefit.

Target heart rate is a useful tool in determining the proper intensity of exercise, but your body will also provide clues. Pay attention to when your body is asking for extra hydration, a slower pace, or even a faster pace. If you feel like your heart is racing or feel lightheaded, listen to your body and take a break or lower the intensity of your workout. 

If you have heart disease and have questions about exercise safety, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists at Oklahoma Heart Hospital today.