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How do I monitor my heart rate during exercise?

Eric Olsen
Allergy
One way to judge what is moderate activity for you is to measure your heart rate. Although this is perhaps a more accurate approach to gauging your effort, it's also more of a nuisance if you happen to be one of those who has a hard time finding a pulse to count. In any case, moderate activity is activity intense enough to elevate your heart rate to at least 50 percent of your maximum heart rate (60 to 70 percent is better). You can calculate your rough maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Thus, if you're 55, your theoretical maximum heart rate will be 165. Seventy percent of this would be 115 beats per minute. (While exercising, stop and count your pulse for 10 seconds, then multiply by six.) You should measure your heart rate during the sustained effort portion of your workout, not during the beginning warm-up period or the later cool-down, as these measurements won't be as indicative of your true sustained effort. Also, if you're very out of shape, counting your heart rate won't give you an indication of the intensity of your effort.
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Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...
During wour workouts, periodically check your heart rate. If you have a heart rate monitor (a device worn on your chest and wrist that can detect and track your heart rate while you are being active), you can set the alarm limits around your target heart range.

If you do not have a monitor, you can get a rough estimate of your heart rate by counting your pulse for six seconds and adding a zero. You can check your pulse by placing your index and middle fingers lightly on your radial pulse. This is the pulse on the thumb side of your wrist. Press lightly because pressing too heavily will cut off the flow of blood through the vessel, and you will be unable to count. You can also place your fingers lightly on either side of your windpipe (the hard tube you feel in the very center of your throat) to feel your carotid pulse. Do not press too hard or massage this area since this can affect your heart rate. Practice taking your pulse before you start to exercise so you know what you are feeling for before you exercise. If your heart rate is too slow, pick up your pace; if it is too high, then slow down a bit.
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There are several methods to monitoring heart rate during exercise. For example you can periodically take your pulse. Once you find your pulse, count the number of beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six. This method is effective but a bit cumbersome. The most effective and easiest form of monitoring your heart rate during exercise is to use a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors are very effective and provide a lot of feedback in addition to your heart rate such as estimated calories expended and distance traveled. They help you track the intensity of your effort with objective information. This is more precise than relying on how you feel (ratings of perceived exertion).

II’s not hard to stay in the know while you’re on the move. While you exercise, do these three things from time to time:
  • Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
  • Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist.
  • Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute. You want to stay between 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This range is your target heart rate.
The American Heart Association provides estimated target heart rates for different ages. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. The figures are averages, so use them as general guidelines. Find the age closest to yours, followed by your target heart rate zone (50%-85%) and your average maximum heart rate (100%):
  • 20 years, 100-170 beats per minute, 200 beats per minute
  • 30 years, 95-162 beats per minute, 190 beats per minute
  • 35 years, 93-157 beats per minute, 185 beats per minute
  • 40 years, 90-153 beats per minute, 180 beats per minute
  • 45 years, 88-149 beats per minute, 175 beats per minute
  • 50 years, 85-145 beats per minute, 170 beats per minute
  • 55 years, 83-140 beats per minute, 165 beats per minute
  • 60 years, 80-136 beats per minute, 160 beats per minute
  • 65 years, 78-132 beats per minute, 155 beats per minute
  • 70 years, 75-128 beats per minute, 150 beats per minute
Keep in mind that a few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you're taking medication to control your blood pressure, call your healthcare provider to find out if you need to aim for a lower target heart rate.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.