Heart Health

04 July 2016

Exercise: benefits of monitoring your heart rate

Exercise is good for your heart, and monitoring your heart rate during exercise can be a great help if you know which heart rate zone you should aim for.

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Some people get completely breathless from a 10 minute warm-up, others can run for an hour and barely seem out of breath while still able to hold a conversation. Is one exercising harder than the other? The answer lies in your heart.

When it comes to exercising and your heart rate or exertion, knowing your target heart rate can help you be more conscious of the effort you’re putting in, or the effort you still need to put in. If you track your heart rate during exercise and you know what zone you should be in you can adjust the intensity as necessary and save yourself time and effort while getting the most out of your workout.

Get your heart rate up!

 Aerobic exercise is anything which gets the heart rate up and the blood flowing. Skipping, running, cycling, swimming, plyometric and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are all considered aerobic exercises.

When you perform aerobic exercise, the heart, lungs, and circulatory system work together to supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles and most research supports the fact that the better you are at aerobic exercise, the more improved your overall health and reduced risk of chronic disease becomes.

Read: Yoga may benefit heart health as much as aerobics

The guidelines recommend a heart rate that is 20 to 60 beats higher than your normal heart rate, i.e. an intensity which stimulates the aerobic system. Knowing your target heart rate (THR) can help you determine if you’re pushing too hard and need to back off. If, however, the intensity feels too light your heart rate will most probably be below the THR.

Beginners should aim to exercise in the lower ranger of their target zone and gradually increase it to the higher range, at about 85%. These are standard guidelines, however, and people with a heart condition or any other medical condition affecting the heart, should first consult their healthcare professional about which exercises they can safely perform and for advice on their THR.

Why exercise is good for the heart

Exercise makes the heart beat faster and over time this strengthens the heart. However there are many other benefits associated with exercise and the heart:

  • Circulation: Cardiovascular exercise improves blood circulation which reduces the risk of blood clots or blockages in the arteries.
  • Strong heart: Regular exercise strengthens the heart, and a strong heart expends less effort to pump blood.
  • Lowers BP: Aerobic exercise has been shown to assist in reducing and sometimes even preventing high blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol: Exercise can also raise HDL levels (“good” cholesterol) which helps lower heart disease risk.
  • Weight loss:  Regular exercise together with a healthy diet can help overweight or obese people lose weight. Carrying excess weight is linked to numerous diseases, including diabetes, and puts strain on the heart. Losing weight can alleviate this strain.

Get into the zone

Before working out your target training heart rate, it’s important to know your resting heart rate, which is the number of heart beats per minute while at rest. The best time to check this is before you get out of bed in the morning.

Read: 20 good reasons to get moving

Generally speaking, for anyone between the ages of 10 and 60, the average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. For athletes and regular exercisers, it’s in the range of 40–60 beats per minute.  

From here you can work out your target training zone from one of the following two methods:

  • Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist.
  • Count your pulse for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute.
  • Then calculate between 50 to 85% of your maximum heart rate, which will give you your THR.

Or

  • 220 minus your age will give you your maximum heart rate, from which you can work out the percentages of your target heart rate.
  • You can also work it out according to the following table from the American Heart Association:

heart

Another method used by many fitness professionals is one called Rate of Perceived Exertion. It sounds fancy, but basically means that on a scale of 1–10 with 1 being “no effort required to hold a conversation”, such as when you’re strolling along, to 10 being “you can barely breathe you’re panting so hard and talking is out of the question”. The idea is to simply pay attention to how you feel during a workout and exercise, at an intensity which is challenging, but which you could continue for a prolonged time period.

Read: Aerobic or resistance training?

 Ideally, as a beginner, you should be able to breathe fairly comfortably to ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise. Although not chatting constantly, you should still be able to talk without any difficulty.

Read more:

To optimise exercise, heed your heart rate

Heart rate tied to heart attack risk

What should your target heart rate be during exercise?

References:

Target heart rates; American Heart Association; reviewed 1/2015; http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Target-Heart-Rates_UCM_434341_Article.jsp#.V3VyQ_l97IU

Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate; Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; August 10, 2015; Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and ObesityNational Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm

Heart Rate Zone Calculator; American Council of Exercise; http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_tools_content.aspx?id=7