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How to determine the “sweet spot” of aerobic activity when you’re exercising.

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If you’ve ever been to a gym or worked out with a personal trainer, you may have heard of the term target heart rate (THR) zone. But even if you knew that you were supposed to aim to get and keep your heart rate within that zone, did you know what it meant? Or how to calculate it?

Chances are you didn’t, unless someone gave you a number to shoot for and you were able to track it on your fitness tracker or a heart monitor.

“Exercise has many health benefits including reducing your risks of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and helping to improve your mental health and mood. Knowing about your maximum heart rate and target heart rate zone can help you to safely perform different types of physical exercises- especially aerobic exercises.  The awareness of  the normal limits of your heart rate during exercises will help you identify any potential abnormal tachycardia and arrhythmia so that you can be evaluated by your physician early on the process. It serves as a tool to help you guide and monitor the impact of your physical exercises on your beloved heart.“

-Messan D. Folivi, MD, MHS, Internal Medicine

What is a target heart rate zone?

This number is an indication of how fast your heart is beating and provides you with information about how intensely you are exercising. Keeping your heart rate within that zone during your workout provides the most aerobic benefits. For example, if you are shooting to meet the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation for getting in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, you can determine if you’re meeting that intensity level based on your heart rate.

How do you determine what your target heart rate zone is?

Calculating target heart rate may differ from person to person, especially if you have a medical condition (you should check with your doctor to determine the best target heart rate for you).

But as a general rule of thumb, you can determine your target heart rate by first calculating your maximum heart rate (MHR) and then shooting for a target heart rate when exercising that is 64-76% of your maximum heart rate, according to the CDC.

Your maximum heart rate is based on your age. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.

      • If you are 30, your MHR = 220-30 = 190 bpm
      • If you are 40, your MHR = 220-40 = 180 bpm
      • If you are 50, your MHR = 220-50 = 170 bpm

To calculate your target heart rate (THR) zone, multiply your MHR by 64% and 76%. These numbers give you the low and high numbers that your heart rate should stay within the majority of time while you are exercising at a moderate intensity level.

      • If you are 30, your THR is 122-144 bpm
      • If you are 40, your THR is 115-137 bpm
      • If you are 50, your THR is 109-129 bpm

How do you know if you’re exercising in your target heart rate zone?

While you are exercising, you can determine your heart rate by checking your fitness tracker, a heart monitor, an Apple watch or doing it the old-fashioned way. To check your pulse manually, place the tips of your index and middle fingers over the radial pulse on your wrist and press lightly. Count the number of heartbeats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. This will give you the number of beats per minute (bpm). You’ll have to briefly stop exercising to check it this way.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 8, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS

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