Sunday, July 26, 2009

Putting Your Heart into Your Exercise Program

There are studies too numerous to mention that point to the many benefits of exercising. Lots of us already have some kind of an exercise regimen or program that we are actively working. It could be walking or it could be training for triathlon or climbing Everest!

For any and all in between, it takes time doesn't it? And we're busy with life, so it does take commitment to exercise or train most days a week. But how do you know if you are making the most of that precious time you've set aside and are working hard enough to make a difference - especially in the area of cardio exercise - exercising your heart and lungs?

The best way I know of is to know where your heart rate should be while you are working out. The first thing you need to know about that is - what is your maximum heart rate? That's the rate you don't want to go over at any given age. So the calculation is 220 minus your age. Since I'm 58, my maximum heart rate is 162 beats per minute. 220 - 58 = 162. Obviously, it goes down over time. During exercise, the range you want to stay in to get the most out of your time is your personal target heart rate - 50% - 85% of your maximum heart rate. The low end of my range (50%) is 81 beats per minute. The high end of my range (85%) is about 138. When you are just starting an exercise program, you would want to stay closer to the lower end of your range until you build strength. As time goes on (at least a few months or so if you are just starting) and you are feeling stronger, lasting longer in the exercise, you can push a little harder but staying under 85%. Build slowly. Anywhere in that range provides benefit.

At this point I want to emphasize that if you haven't been exercising or have a medical condition, you should always talk to your physician about what you plan to do exercise-wise ahead of time. Don't just jump in without advise.

You can monitor your heart rate by taking your pulse, but that isn't as precise as using a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors are battery operated and usually come with a chest strap. I have one that is a watch only and one that has a chest strap and watch, and the chest strap monitor seems to be more accurate and dependable. You can program your monitor to your age so it does the target heart rate calculation for you and alerts you if you are over or under your range if you want it to while you are exercising. Some heart rate monitors store the information so you can see later how you did. Sporting goods stores and bike shops typically carry them, but first talk with someone knowledgeable about the one that would be best for you. The price range is wide but I think you can get a perfectly good heart rate monitor for $70 or so. make sure the one you buy displays the current heart rate without you having to press buttons.

Not only is monitoring your heart rate good for maximizing your time exercising, but it also lets you know if you are overdoing it - getting too close or going over your maximum heart rate. And that's important, too! I remember once I was on my bike doing a good, long ride and found myself going up a steep hill and feeling a significant headwind to boot. I looked down at my monitor and I was hitting my maximum heart rate. I stopped, let my heart rate slow some, got back on and pedaled a little slower and kept an eye on it until I reached the top. I was fully prepared to get off and walk if I had to, but I didn't need to.

So, this is just a little nugget for you if you'd like to use it. Putting your heart into the equation when it comes to exercise will make a difference in your quest to improve your fitness. Go for it!
The picture above is of a couple of guys who do re-enactments in Tombstone, AZ from back when all you did was exercise - all day long!


  1. Good to know, Anne. I just recently did one of those free bloodpressure/heartrate tests at the mall and found even my standing heartrate varied widely over a few days. Hmmm. But I'm fast walking about 1 1/2 miles a day. That's something, right? Hugs, your sis, Barbara

  2. Great information, Anne. We got a eliptical machine that monitors your heart rate as you workout. I just knew when I reached a stage that wasn't good and went back to a slower pace until I could increase again...kind of like you on the bike. Of course, I had no idea how or what my rate should have been. Now I do!

  3. Yea! I call using these kinds of measures - the smart workout. Wringing every possible benefit out of the time you spend doing it. I also use the monitors on elipticals and treadmills and they are pretty accurate until the machine itself gets tired over months of constant use at the gym. But a good home machine should last a long time. Bravo!

  4. great info....I think I'll look for one of those monitors! What about pedometers? My brother in law wears one so he gets in 10,000 steps a day. He has a heart condition and was told that doing this would be the best thing for him. What about the rest of us? Would we benefit?