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What’s Your Ideal Heart Rate, Really?

Heart Health
Author name: Lee Health


heart rate graphic

Is your heart thumping double-time when you reach the top flight of the stairs at work? First, congrats on pushing yourself and not the elevator button on your free workout. You’re improving your heart health, lowering cholesterol levels, and increasing muscular strength.

But do you know what your ideal heart rate is? For example, how do you know when you’re pushing your heart too much or not enough during “free workouts” like going up stairs or running to catch the bus or targeted exercises like workouts at the gym?

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What is your resting heart rate?

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. Your heart rate is an important indicator of your overall health. When it’s too fast or too slow, that may be a sign of heart or other health problems.

What heart rate should I expect to have?

Your resting heart rate depends on your age and overall health. The younger you are, the higher your heart rate tends to be. And lower is better, too, says the American Heart Association (AHA). Research shows that higher resting heart rates are associated with poorer physical fitness, increased blood pressure, and higher body weight.

If you’re an adult (ages 18+), any number between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) at rest is normal, says the AHA. The stronger your heart muscle is, the less hard it works to beat regularly. That means lower resting heart rates tend to be better.

Tracking your target heart rate

As you become more physically active, the best way to know if you’re improving your heart and lung fitness is to track your target heart rate during your activity.

Your target heart rate is a percentage of your maximum heart rate, which is the fastest your heart can beat, based on your age. Unless you’re in excellent physical condition, any physical activity that boosts your heart rate above 75 percent of your maximum rate is likely too strenuous.

Then again, any activity that increases your heart rate to less than 50 percent of your maximum rate gives your heart and lungs too little conditioning.

Keep in mind that “getting into the zone” doesn’t mean pushing yourself to the limit. For example, while walking briskly or jogging, you should be able to keep up a conversation without trouble. If you can’t, move a bit more slowly.

Checking your heart rate the old-fashioned way

If you don’t own a smartwatch or want to check if yours is accurate, you can take your pulse manually—at your neck, wrist, or chest. But you’ll have to stop exercising to do this, of course.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking your pulse at the wrist for the most accurate result. You can feel the radial pulse on the artery of the wrist in line with the thumb.

Here’s how:

  • Place the tips of the index and middle fingers over the artery and press lightly. Do not use the thumb.
  • Take a full 60-second count of the heartbeats, or take for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.
  • Start the count on a beat, which is counted as “zero.” For example, if this number falls between 109 and 129 bpm in the case of a 50-year-old person, he or she is active within the target range for moderate-intensity activity.

Finding your target heart rate zone

For moderate-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 64 percent and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate, says the CDC. You can estimate your maximum heart rate based on your age.

To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 50-year-old, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 50 years = 170 beats per minute (bpm).

The 64 percent and 76 percent levels would be:

  • 64 percent level: 170 x 0.64 = 109 bpm
  • 76 percent level: 170 x 0.76 = 129 bpm

Source: CDC

This shows that moderate-intensity physical activity for a 50-year-old will require that the heart rate remains between 109 and 129 bpm during physical activity.

For vigorous-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 77 percent and 93 percent of your maximum heart rate. To determine this range, follow the same formula used above, except change “64 and 76 percent” to “77 and 93 percent.”

For example, for a 35-year-old person, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 35 years = 185 beats per minute (bpm). The 77 percent and 93 percent levels would be:

  • 77 percent level: 185 x 0.77 = 142 bpm
  • 93 percent level: 185 x 0.93 = 172 bpm

Source: CDC

This shows that vigorous-intensity physical activity for a 35-year-old will require that the heart rate remains between 142 and 172 bpm during physical activity.

This table shows target heart rate zones for different ages. In the age category closest to yours, read across to find your target heart rates. The figures are averages, so use them as a general guide.

heart rate graphic

Source: CDC

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