Before undertaking an exercise program, most especially one that will involve cardiovascular exercises, such as running and cycling, among others, it is important to understand the concept of monitoring our heart rates—or the number of times our hearts beat per minute—in order to help us achieve our fitness objectives and exercise in a safe manner.
The heart is the organ responsible for pumping and circulating blood throughout our bodies. During exercise and exertion, the heart will need to work harder, thus increasing the number of times it will have to beat per minute. Heart exertion is measured by beats per minute (BPM).
A simple formula that we can use in computing and subsequently monitoring our proper heart rates to meet our desired fitness outcome is to take the number 220 and subtract our age. If for example, you are 40 years, old, simply subtract that from 220. We come up with 180. That number is then considered as your maximum heart rate (MHR). One hundred eighty is then the 100 percent heart rate for a 40-year-old.
When at rest, a normal adult will have a resting heart rate of between 60 to 100 BPM. During exercise, naturally, we will be increasing our heart rates. If, for instance running is our exercise of choice, in order to burn fat, when running, we must bring up our heart rate to 60 percent to 75 percent of our MHR. In the above cited example where the individual has a 180 MHR,this person would need to reach between 108 and 135 BPM while running in order to burn fat. The 60-percent to 75-percent range is known as the fat burning zone. If fat loss is the goal, exercising below this zone may not be the most efficient way to go about it.
The next zone, where we reach 75 percent to 85 percent of our MHR is the cardiovascular zone. When exercising at this range, we are burning off carbohydrates and expending more calories than when in the fat burning zone. At this stage we are more effectively improving cardio fitness.
Finally, once we reach 85 percent to 100 percent, the upper end of which includes the MHR, our hearts and respiratory systems are working at their absolute maximum capacity. It is advised that interval workouts be done at this range, as prolonged activity may no longer be safe. For experienced athletes, working out at this zone should not pose much of a problem. However, if you have just started exercising, it may be prudent to start off at the 50 percent of MHR and work upward.
Is it possible to exercise above the 100-percent range? Theoretically, yes. Elite athletes who need to push their limits to gain a competitive edge most certainly work above 100 percent. However, training at this stage may pose serious health risks to ordinary individuals. The worst case is a cardiac event that may prove to be fatal. A perfectly healthy individual who pushes his heart to unchartered territory over the 100-percent range may suffer fatal consequences.
There are various ways to measure our heart-rates; wearable heart rate monitors; apps that can be downloaded to smart phones; and, of course, the old school way of placing two fingers on our inner wrist and manually counting the number of pulses.
Once we are able to wrap our heads around the importance of keeping tabs on our ticker, we can exercise more efficiently and reduce possible risks to our heart.