Heart Rate Explained: Why You Need to Keep Track

image02According to Men’s Health, “If you have a desk job, you’re twice as likely to contract cardiovascular disease than people with standing jobs.”

It’s a scary statistic, we know.

Enter the ever-popular FitBit and the much-ridiculed standing desk.

Whether or not you’ve jumped on the office fitness bandwagon, tracking your fitness progress - and your heart rate - is one way to make sure your heart stays healthy.

But how do you process all the information it’s tracking each day?

Learn more about how to keep your heart happy - and what your heart rate can tell you about your fitness level - below:

Understand Your Fitness Level

As it turns out, your resting heart rate is directly connected to your fitness level, says psychologist Dennis Kravetz.

“The average person has a resting pulse rate of between 70 and 75 beats per minute,” explains Kravetz at Huffington Post.

“Fit people who get lots of aerobic exercise having resting pulse rates in the 50s and 60s,” he adds.

While a healthy resting heart rate varies depending on lots of factors - from age and gender to diet and genetics  - most experts agree that an unhealthy range can creep up into 80 or 90 beats per minute.

If your resting heart rate is far above 90, it might be a good idea to speak with your doctor about starting a training program, suggest the experts at Berkeley Wellness.

“Above 100 is considered a rapid pulse, called tachycardia,” which increases the patient’s risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems, write the editors.

Like other symptoms of arrhythmia, tachycardia should be taken seriously - and checked out by a medical professional.

How to Calculate Heart Rate

To measure your resting heart rate, take your pulse first thing in the morning, when you haven’t had coffee or extra stimulants that might elevate your number.

Count the number of beats in your pulse for ten seconds, then multiply that number by six - that should be the number of beats per minute (or BPM) in your resting heart rate.

This baseline will help you determine “your fitness level - and it might even help you spot developing health problems,” write the experts at the American Heart Association.

Once you have a good idea of your baseline, it’s much easier to put your target - and maximum - heart rates for aerobic activity in context.

To find out where your target fat-burning zone is, calculate your maximum heart rate first. “[Multiply] your age by 0.7 and subtract that figure from 208,” advise the editors of WebMD.

“[Published] in 2001...in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology,” this more recent formula is more accurate than other common methods, the editors explain.

Ultimately, your MHR represents the upper limits of how much activity is safe for you - without the risk of injury.

“If you decide to push yourself above 80 percent of your MHR during your workout, try it in small doses,” suggests Myatt Murphy, author of The Ultimate Dumbbell Guide.

“For example, try exercising at a higher intensity for 15-30 seconds, then bring your pace back down into your target heart rate zone for one to two minutes.”

(That’s right - interval training!)

Understanding these targets will help you burn more fat - and know where your threshold for safe workouts really is.

More About Your Target Fitness Zones

Plastered on every cardio machine at the gym is the mysterious phrase “fat-burning zone.” This estimated target heart rate is usually 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (or MHR) and is supposed to be the optimal intensity for burning fat.

But is this “zone” real - and does it burn the most calories?

“Although your body does burn a higher percentage of calories from stored fat when you keep your pulse between 60 to 80 percent of your MHR, you actually burn more overall calories when you exercise over 80 percent,” explains Murphy.

That’s not easy to do for sustained periods of time, which is why interval training is often kept to intervals of two minutes and less.

If you’re a regular runner, though, it might be easier to gauge your optimum workout - or even your best race pace - based on how you feel throughout a timed workout, rather than what number your heart monitor shows.

“The closer you are to your MHR during your workouts and races, the shorter the duration of exercise that you will be able to maintain at that pace,” explains Dr. William Roberts at Runner’s World.

“If you can maintain a rate of 160 during your workouts and races, your MHR is well above that.”


Certainly using your heart rate is one way to ensure that you’re burning fat during a cardio workout - but there are other ways, too.

“The fat-burning zone may exist, but I wouldn't worry about hitting that zone if the goal is fat loss specifically,” trainer J.C. Deen told Men’s Fitness.

“You may burn a little more fat during exercise, but if a calorie deficit isn't present, then it will all even out in the end you won't lose much fat at all,” Deen added.

This is precisely the old calories-in, calories-out discussion that fuels weight loss debates, so it probably sounds familiar.

Of course, we’d also advocate for strength training to develop lean muscle, in addition to moderate cardio, to help you burn calories - and fat.

Maximize Your Training

Especially if you’re new to working out, awareness of your heart rate can help you better plan and maximize your training.

“Measuring the rate of your heart during exercise can help you determine when you're pushing your body too hard or need to push it harder to achieve the level of fitness you are seeking,” explains Bryan Tomek at Active.com.

Even if you’re a gym rat who tends not to track heart rate, you may want to start.

This number - and how quickly it changes when you work out at 80% of your MHR or move into recovery mode - can actually tell you whether you’re making significant progress in your workouts.

According to Alexandra Duron, tracking these changes can ultimately help you with your endurance, especially if you adopt tempo training.

“By training the body to use the oxygen it receives more efficiently, tempo training helps you boost your lactate threshold,” writes Duron at Greatist.

A better lactate threshold = a faster recovery period. And that’s something we can get behind.

Gear Up

Interested in tracking your heart rate? With so many fitness trackers on the market, you can take your pick!

Here are a few of our favorite gadgets - and who might benefit most from each:

For the fitness newbie: Fitbit Charge

What it does: measures heart rate, steps, and even has a program for tracking diet and sleep

Where to check it out: https://www.fitbit.com/chargehr

For the workout-a-holic: Garmin Fenix 3

What it does: GPS tracking, counts swim strokes, and analyzes running data

Where to check it out: https://explore.garmin.com/en-US/fenix/

For the weight room buff: StrongLifts 5x5

What it does: leads you through compound movements like deadlifts, squats, and the bench press

Where to check it out: http://stronglifts.com/5x5/

Need even more suggestions? The team at Gizmodo did an awesome job rounding up the best fitness tracker for every workout.

If you’re stuck at a desk all day, it’s more important than ever to re-make your fitness routine to get your legs moving and your heart pumping.

Master your heart rate by checking in during your runs - or even during your weight training - to see how fast your ticker’s pumping.

Whether you track your heart rate the old fashioned way or with a fitness tracker, you’ll have a much better idea of when you can push harder - and when you should let off the gas.

Do you track your heart rate during workouts? How do you use this information to crush it the next time you hit the gym?

Images: Pexels, Pixabay

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