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Fitness Q & A

Using Target Heart Rate Can Help You Maximize Workout


Question: You sometimes refer to "target heart-rate range." What is it, and how would I calculate it? I am 57 years old, if that is relevant.


Answer: Here's the simple formula you can use to see if your exercise sessions will allow you to reach your aerobic fitness goals without pushing yourself too hard.

Subtract your age in years from 220. This gives you the maximum heartbeats per minute that doctors would typically expect for someone your age.

Multiply by 0.65 and 0.80 to find the minimum and maximum heartbeats per minute when in your ideal exercise intensity zone.

For example, a 40-year-old would go through these steps: 220 -- 40 = 180; 180 x 0.65 = 117 beats per minute (low end) and 180 x 0.80 = 144 (high end). So that person would want to keep his or her heart rate above 117 and below 144 during aerobic exercise.

You should take your heart rate as soon as possible after you stop exercising. Simply take your pulse--either on your wrist or on the carotid artery, which runs alongside your Adam's apple--by pressing lightly with a forefinger. Count beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to determine your beats per minute.

Be aware that your heart rate starts to slow down immediately, so any delay in finding the pulse will distort the count. Practice first.

If this process still seems like too much trouble, or if you're pregnant and need to keep track of your heart rate throughout your workouts, then you might want to use a heart rate monitor--either by using a gym's exercise equipment (which often has them) or by purchasing an individual one.

Your target heart rate, of course, depends on your aerobic fitness, so you should consider the perceived exertion (how hard the exercise feels to you) when you exercise aerobically.


Stephanie Oakes is the fitness correspondent for Discovery Health Channel and a health/fitness consultant. Send questions by e-mail to: stephoakes She cannot respond to every query.

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