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In recognition of National Heart Health Month, we are using this space to explain how to gauge the intensity of your exercise based on your heart rate. Following are instructions for calculating your maximum heart rate and target heart rate zone – and how to check your heart rate during exercise.

Find Your Maximum Heart Rate:

  • You can calculate your estimated maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
  • This number can differ slightly in individuals with different fitness levels, but the “220 – Age” is an accurate estimation for this top number.
  • For example, if you are 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175.
  • This number represents the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.

Target Heart Rate Zones

Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can calculate your desired target heart rate zone. This is the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.

The American Heart Association generally recommends a target heart rate of:

  • Moderate exercise intensity: 50% to about 70% of your maximum heart rate
  • Vigorous exercise intensity: 70% to about 85% of your maximum heart rate

To determine your target heart rate zone, use the heart rate reserve (HRR) method…If you’re aiming for a target heart rate in the moderate range of 50% to 70% for example, calculate it like this:

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting how many times your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. This number is usually somewhere between 60 and 90 beats per minute for the average adult.
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.5 (50%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.

Here’s an example using a 45-year-old adult calculating their target heart rate zone during moderate exercise:

  • First, subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your estimated maximum heart rate.
  • Next, check your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. Let’s say it is 75 beats per minute. Calculate your HRR by subtracting 75 from 175. Your HRR is 100.
  • Multiply 100 by 0.5 (50%) to get 50, then add your resting heart rate of 75 to get 125.
  • Now multiply 100 by 0.7 (70%) to get 70, then add your resting heart rate of 75 to get 145.
  • The target heart rate zone for a 45 year old engaging in moderate exercise is 125 to 145 beats per minute.

How to tell if you are in the Zone:

So how do you know if you are in your target heart rate zone? You can use an activity tracker to check your heart rate regularly while you exercise, as many trackers and watches now have built in heart rate monitoring. If you do not have a tracker or monitor, use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise:

  • Stop exercising briefly.
  • Take your pulse for 15 seconds. To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and middle fingers on your neck underneath your jaw and to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers (index and middle) between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.
  • Multiply this number by 4 to calculate beats per minute.

By HealthEase fitness professional Mike McCool