Heart Rate: Your Magic Fitness Number When Exercise

Heart Rate: Your Magic Fitness Number When Exercise

Heart Rate Exercise

Knowing a vital number—your heart rate–leads to making the most of exercising. When you tap into your ticker for some inside information during a workout, you’ll discover something we call your “magic fitness number,” a measure of how fast your heart beats during its optimal rate for exercise. Along with helping to improve fitness and shed weight, this number can be a great help in managing your blood-sugar levels.

The story behind this magic number begins with each and every thump-thump of your heart. Every day, your heart beats about 100,000 times, pushing about 2,000 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of capillaries, arteries, and vessels. Your heart rate—the number of beats per minute —is a fundamental measure of your hearts fit ness. That’s why your doctor (or, at least, one of his nurses) always takes your pulse during a visit. The timing of those beats during exercise means the difference between a casual stroll and a fitness-boosting workout. If your heart isn’t beating a bit faster during exercise, you’re not going to show any improvement in fitness.

For most of us during the course of our day, a typical heart-rate range is 60 to 80 beats per minute. A faster beat can indicate that you just ran up the stairs or did some other physical activity. Fever from a flu or cold can also temporarily elevate your heart rate. A consistently fast resting heartbeat could also be a sign of trouble, such as anemia, thyroid problems, atrial fibrillation, or some other cardiovascular defect.

Heart rate is a measure of fitness. Those who are less fit will have an elevated heart rate. For example, every minute, the average couch potato’s heart beats about 70 to 75 times, a rate of more than a beat a second. On the other hand, an active person’s heart is so strong that it can pump the same amount of blood in only 50 beats. So when you exercise at the right amount of intensity, you not only pump up your arm and leg muscles, but you make your heart muscle stronger, too. This kind of conditioning will lead to a more efficient heart—one that will keep on ticking lots longer.

Most fitness experts recommend measuring your heart rate during exercise. The reason: There’s a sweet spot, the magic number, where your heart is working just hard enough, but not too hard, to provide a maximum benefit. For most of us, that beneficial area is 60 to 70 percent of our maximum heart rate. For folks who are more fit, it could be as high as 80 percent.

When you work your heart in the 60-percent of-max zone for at least 30 minutes a day, you’re helping build heart fitness, and sticking within this zone has important benefits for people with diabetes, too. You see, the intensity of exercise determines how much blood sugar your muscles use during a workout. By keeping tabs on your heart rate, you can keep track of how different levels of exercise intensity affect your blood sugar and be able to adjust your insulin dosage to avoid crashes when you work out.

How to Find Your Number

To find your magic number, you’ll need to know your maximum heart rate. A formula promoted by the American Heart Association (AHA) to determine maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So if you are 50 years old, your max heart rate would be 170 (220 minus 50 equals 170).

However, this method often fails to take into account individual differences in fitness and weight. Many trainers and physiologists believe there are personalized methods that can more accurately calculate maximum heart rate. Some of these more precise methods include stress tests where you push yourself to maximum effort while the heart rate is being measured. Other methods involve formulas that incorporate fitness levels, which of course vary person by person.

But whether you have a personal trainer to help find your maximum heart rate or use the AHA formula, you’ll still have to do a little more math to determine what 60 to 70 percent of max is. For example, that 50-yearold would need to multiply the 170 max heart rate by 0.60 (for 60 percent) and 0.70 (for 70 percent. In our example, that would mean that to keep the intensity between 60 to 70 percent, the heart rate would need to be between 102 and 119 beats per minute. The heart-boosting benefits don’t begin immediately, though. You’ll need to stay within your magic number range for at least 10 minutes before your efforts pay off health wise.

Measure the Beat

How exactly do you track your heart rate? One low-tech way of ensuring that you’re exercising in the right heart-rate zone is to take note of your breathing. If you’re breathing hard, but can still carry on a conversation, you’re likely within that 60 to 70 percent zone. But once your words and phrases are choppy or if you’re panting to catch your breath, you’re likely over the 70 percent mark. On the too-easy side, if you’re able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance without needing to take a breath now and then, you’re probably falling below your magic number.

Another low-tech way to check your heart rate is to be an old-school nurse. First, wear a watch with a second hand. Then use the pads of your fingers to find your pulse in your neck or inner wrist. Count the beats for six seconds and then multiply by 10. This will give you a rough idea of your heart rate. For example, if there are 10 beats in those six seconds, your approximate heart rate is 100 beats per minute.

The high-tech, more accurate measurement of your ticker is with a heart-rate monitor. Don’t worry, they’re not just for hardcore athletes anymore, and they don’t cost very much, either. Some models sell for as little as $40. Or you can spend more than $200 to buy a top-of-the-line model that has as much computing power as a GPS, laptop, and watch all rolled into one. If you’re just looking for a way keep tabs on your heart rate as you exercise, the less-expensive models will do just fine.

Heart-rate monitors have become very easy to use. With most models, you put a strap or sensing device around your chest against your skin. When your shirt is on, no one can even see it. Then, you’ll put the monitor, which looks like a watch, on your wrist. The monitor receives signals from the sensor as it keeps track of your heart. Most monitors are programmable,” with features such as an alert that lets you know if you’re exceeding or falling below your magic number.

No matter if you’re old school or high tech; keeping tabs on your heart rate and ticking to your magic number will give you more efficient workouts. That means the time you spend exercising will actually make a greater difference to your health and blood-sugar management. And your heart will thank you, too.

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