Why and How Should You Monitor Your Heart Rate During Exercise?

Posted by on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When taking part in aerobic exercise, one of the primary goals will be to improve your cardiovascular fitness – i.e. improve the fitness of your heart. How quickly your heart is beating during exercise is an indication of how hard it is working.

Your heart is a muscle, and like lifting a weight to work on your biceps, the intensity of your exercise will have an impact on the strength of your heart. However, overdoing it with your heart isn’t quite the same as with your biceps! For this reason it is crucial that you are exercising with your heart rate within a level that is safe, and one which will help you achieve the aims of your exercise.

What Should Your Target Heart Rate Be?

Your firstly need to calculate your estimated maximum heart rate by using the formula: 220 – your age in years. So, if you are 35 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate is 220 – 35 = 185 beats per minute (bpm). Keep in mind that this number is just an estimate. You certainly do not want to be exercising hard enough to reach this number!

Once you have an estimate, you can come up with a target. You have to ask yourself what your goals are.

  • Better health. If you exercise within 50-60% of your maximum heart rate, then you will be working on improving your health and wellbeing. This level of exercise can be performed on most days and is generally safe for most people (though of course consult your doctor if you have, or suspect you have health issues).
  • Losing weight. Working between 60-70% of your maximum heart rate will result in exercise sessions that are a bit more intense and will help you see significant reductions in your body fat. You can perform this level of exercise on most days.
  • Increased Fitness Levels. This is the most intense level of exercise, where you work at between 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. You must give at least 48 hours of rest in between these intense sessions, and are strictly for people that are already very fit – exercising in this range can be dangerous for people that don’t already regularly exercise. Also, if you are performing in this range it is recommended you consult a professional personal trainer.

How Should I Monitor My Heart Rate?

To monitor your heart rate, you will need a heart rate monitor. These take various forms, but are generally composed of a strap worn across the chest which detects your heart rate. A signal is then sent to a monitor which provides a visual display of how quickly your heart is beating.

Most exercise bikes have a built in monitor for use for heart rate control programs, and some have areas on the handles where you can grip to detect your heart rate – however, these sorts of detectors are often less accurate, so if you’re serious about using your heart rate to inform your exercise routine, invest in a good chest strap.

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