Monitoring heart rate is beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Doctors use it, for instance, to get an idea of your overall health as it provides an insight into how efficient your heart muscle function is.
Additionally, it is advantageous to be monitoring your heart rate for exercise as it gives a reasonable estimate of how many calories were burned from a workout session and lets you know when you hit the sweet spot between not exercising hard enough and overexerting yourself.
Having undertaken my bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy, I can advocate the importance of heart rate monitoring during and after exercise to optimise your workouts in addition to reducing your risk for injury.
Please also note that I would strongly consult your doctor for more specific guidance regarding exercise intensity if you have any underlying medical conditions.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- The difference between heart rate and blood pressure
- Resting heart rate
- How to reduce resting heart rate
- Max heart rate
- Target heart rate
The difference between heart rate and blood pressure
To start, I think it is essential to clarify the difference between heart rate and blood pressure as although they are both direct consequences of heart function, they are not the same.
For instance, blood pressure is the amount of force blood exerts on blood vessel walls as it moves around your body. The higher the force exhibited, the harder the heart is working to push blood through your arteries to send essential oxygen and nutrients to various regions of the body.
On the other hand, the lower the force applied on heart walls by blood, the easier the heart is working.
Blood pressure is measured by two values: Systolic pressure and Diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the force of blood on artery walls exerted at each heartbeat, which is the highest pressure, while diastolic pressure measures the force between heartbeats, which is the lowest pressure.
This is why there are always two numbers in a reading of your blood pressure. For example, 120/80mmHg is an optimal blood pressure to have with the 120 reading referring to the systolic pressure alongside 80 relating to the diastolic pressure.
In contrast to blood pressure being the force of how hard your heart is pushing, your heart rate is the speed at which your heart beats per minute.
Be aware though that heart rate and blood pressure do not necessarily increase at the same rate. For example, it may be possible for your heart rate to double safety, but if your blood pressure only increased by 50%, you’d most certainly need a trip to the hospital for damaged blood vessels, to say the least.
So, back to heart rate!
Now there are three crucial aspects to be aware of when it comes to monitoring your heart rate. They are your resting heart rate, your max heart rate and your target heart rate.
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Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate is the amount that your heart beats per minute when you are, you guessed it, at rest.
Men’s resting heartbeat is usually around 70 beats per minute and for women around 75 beats per minute. A considered normal range would be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
The great thing about your resting heart rate is that it offers insights into your overall health, meaning that it can indicate your general well-being as well as potential health risks you may have.
Generally speaking, a higher resting heart rate results in less efficient heart function, worse cardiovascular fitness alongside higher blood pressure. Whereas, a lower resting heart rate presents more efficient heart function, better cardiovascular fitness with lower blood pressure.
For example, a well-trained athlete may have a resting heart rate of as little as 40 beats per minute.
Although it is advisable to consult your doctor if you have a resting heart rate above 100 beats per minute.
Or if you are not a well-trained athlete and your resting heart rate is below 60 beats per minute, especially if you have additional signs or symptoms such as fainting, dizziness and shortness of breath.
So, if your resting heart rate is on the high end, how might you go about reducing it?
Reducing resting heart rate
Well firstly, you can do this by, of course, exercise!
When you become less physically active, your resting heart rate goes up, whereas when you become more physically active, your resting heart rate goes down.
Secondly, you can reduce your resting heart rate by cutting back on alcohol or smoking if you regularly drink or smoke. This is because it will reduce the stress exerted on our hearts resulting in a dramatic reduction in your resting heart rate.
Further, losing weight can also help you reduce your resting heart rate if you are overweight as the larger the body, the harder the heart must work to supply it with blood. Consequently, losing weight can help you to slow your resting heart rate.
Finally, guys, you can reduce the stress you experience daily to obtain a more favourable rest heart rate! Relaxation, tai chi, yoga, and exercise are examples of ways to reduce your stress and lower your resting heart rate over time.
Max heart rate
Now the second aspect to note concerning your heart rate is your max heart rate which, unlike your resting heart rate, is not a trainable attribute. What I mean by this guys, is that if you increase or decrease your fitness levels, your max heart rate will stay the same regardless.
Now you’re probably thinking, well, does that mean that the majority of people have different max heart rates? Well, you would be correct because it does and this can be seen from the Karvonen formula which can easily estimate your max heart rate. This formula is 220 minus your age.
So for instance, if you are 35 years old, then this calculation would be 220 minus 35 equally 185 beats per minute as your max heart rate.
Furthermore, despite the fact that your max hr is not a trainable attribute, the more fit you become, the more work you can do at your max hr for a longer period. In other words, this means that biking, swimming or running at your max heart rate will allow you to do this for a longer duration over time.
Although training at your max heart rate may allow a longer time to be spent there, it is not the most efficient rate to exercise. This is where the target heart rate comes in.
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Target Heart Rate
If you are looking to guarantee optimal caloric burn from your workouts and enhance fitness and performance, you want to train at your target heart rate. It’s a no brainer, if you really want to get the most bang for your buck from your workouts, you want to be staying in your target heart rate zone.
And where is this zone?
Well, the zone is between 60 and 85% of your max heart rate. So let’s do some maths guys.
Let’s take the earlier estimated max heart rate for a 35-year-old which was 185 beats per minute and multiply it by 0.6 (60%) which amounts to 111 beats per minute.
Then let’s take the 185 beats per minute again but this time multiply it by 0.85 (85%), and that will result in 157 beats per minute.
Therefore, this means that for a 35-year-old, the target heart rate zone will be between 111 and 157 beats per minute!
All you need to do differently is input your age into the Karvonen formula for your max heart rate mentioned earlier, followed by calculating 65% and then 80% of it.
However, I would highly recommend to aim for 60% of your Max hr when exercising and then over a few weeks increase the intensity gradually to say 65% and then 70% to eventually 85% as it is quite difficult to maintain your fitness at 85% of your max heart rate when you are just starting out.
In the beginning, a way to see if you are exercising at the right intensity is to perform a talk test where you perform at an intensity suitable enough to talk to a friend.
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To conclude, monitoring heart rate can be very beneficial to burn the most calories from your workouts while ensuring you exercise at the right level to not under/overexert yourself.
Please also note that if you have any underlying medical conditions, I would strongly advise you to consult your doctor for more specific exercise intensity guidance.
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