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How to figure your exercise heart rate

Heart rate

It’s a new year and a new decade, and the question I have heard the most from new exercisers is, “How high should my heart rate be while exercising?”

The answer differs from person to person because several components go into the equation to calculate this.

There is no general recommendation that you should get your heart rate above XYZ. If a trainer or fitness professional tells you that, run the other way! It is NOT one size fits all!

There is no way they can know your risk factors, or your heart health, or your history, or your age, or your fitness level unless they ask you.

The two main components to figuring your target heart rate are your age and your resting heart rate (RHR).

It also matters how fit you are. If you are already a fit person, then you can play around with those upper numbers more.

To calculate the lower end of your target heart rate (THR), use this formula:

(220 – age – RHR × 60%) + RHR

To calculate the upper end of your target heart rate, use this formula:

(220 – age – RHR × 85%) + RHR

Using myself as an example (I am 61 and my resting heart rate (RHR) is 52):

(220–61–52) × (.60) + 52 = 116.2

(220–61–52) × (.85) + 52 = 142.95

So, using 60% and 85% as my parameters for the zone recommended by the YMCA, my target heart rate zone is 116-143. My heart rate often gets above this top number, and I know it for sure when it does. Someone who has been exercising regularly over time can push the limits somewhat.

You may see other percentages when looking into this subject, such as 70-90% or 60-80%. Your maximum heart rate is always 220 minus your age. Then you apply your resting heart rate (RHR) and percentages to your maximum heart rate.

Using the RHR is important because it takes into consideration what kind of shape your heart is already in. A low RHR means your heart works more efficiently when circulating blood to the cells. Over your lifetime, that means millions fewer beats than an unconditioned person’s heart.

According to the American Heart Association, resting pulse can be anywhere from 60-100 — although we know it can be way lower. My husband’s normal resting pulse is in the 40s.

The person whose resting heart rate is 100 has a heart that is working overtime just resting.

If you are not sure what your true resting heart rate is, check your pulse for a full minute before you get out of bed in the morning. Before coffee, before toilet, before you let the dog out. It needs to be at a true resting pulse.

Other things can affect your resting heart rate, including certain medications (for example, beta blockers lower heart rate) and hormones.

We all need to be working out at the proper intensity for us. Each person is an individual and one general number for all isn’t safe. We all want our bodies to deliver oxygen to our cells as efficiently as possible to reap the most benefits.

If you are already an avid, dedicated exerciser, then I bet you can just tell when you are at the upper end of where you need to be. How you feel when exercising is a key marker to where you should be. You will be the first one to know if you are overdoing it.

Also, if you cannot talk while exercising, then your heart rate is probably too high. You should still be able to carry on a conversation, but just be a little breathless. Take the formula above and apply it to your individual numbers, and that will give you a safe guideline to start your commitment to a lifelong routine.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer. She is the fitness director for the YMCA of Calhoun County. Her “Fitness over 50” column appears the third Sunday of each month.