Heart rate is measured by the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Your heart rate can provide information about how hard your heart is working during certain activities. Heart rate can be measured by taking a pulse at the carotid artery on the side of the neck or the radial artery on the thumb side of the forearm. Count the number of beats in 60 seconds.
The heart rate is divided into zones that can be used to help you monitor the intensity of your activity. This article discusses the different heart rate zones and how to improve your aerobic capacity — your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise.
What are heart rate zones?
Heart rate zones are based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate – the fastest your heart can pump at maximum effort.
Maximum heart rate varies from person to person. To really know your maximum heart rate, you must measure it during an all-out workout, such as an exercise stress test. However, a very rough estimate of your maximum heart rate can be obtained by subtracting your age using the simple formula 220. You can then use this estimate as a rough guide for monitoring heart rate zones.
estimated maximum heart rate
Use Equation 220 to subtract your age to estimate your maximum heart rate (or maximum beats per minute), as in the following example:
- If you are 20 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate is 200 beats per minute (BPM).
- 185 BPM if you are 35 years old.
- 170 BPM if you are 50 years old.
- 150 BPM if you are 70 years old.
Heart rate usually increases with activity intensity. At a higher heart rate, you also burn more calories. Heart rate zones can be used to measure your exercise intensity.
Using heart rate zones to monitor your activity level isn’t for everyone. If you take medications that regulate your heart rate (such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers), you won’t see it increase as usual during exercise.
Continuing to target a specific heart rate may cause you to overuse it. If you take these medications, consider using a different tool to assess your effort during exercise, such as the Borg Perceived Motor Score (RPE) scale.
resting heart rate
Resting heart rate is exactly what it sounds like. This is the number of heartbeats per minute when you are resting. It’s best to measure your resting heart rate in the morning (before you drink coffee or eat) while you’re still in bed.
Find your pulse on the side of your neck or the thumb of your wrist. Gently place the pads of your index and middle fingers on the artery.
Once you feel your heartbeat, count the heartbeat for a full 60 seconds. You can count 30 seconds and multiply by 2 (or 15 seconds and multiply by 4), but you’ll get the most accurate information by counting a full minute.
What is “normal”?
In general, the normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
However, many things can affect resting heart rate. If you are stressed, your heart rate may be higher. If you’re a long-distance runner, your heart beats very efficiently, and your resting heart rate is probably around 40-50 beats per minute.
A lower resting heart rate means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.
target heart rate zone
Heart rate zones are useful tools for measuring exercise intensity. First, you need to determine what your target heart rate is.
The target heart rate is calculated as a percentage of your maximum heart rate. In general, you should exercise within 50%–85% of your maximum heart rate. For a 20-year-old with a maximum heart rate of 200, the target heart rate range for exercise is 100 to 170 bpm (calculated as 220 minus 20, then multiplied by 50% and 80%, respectively).
How do you decide what your target number is? If you’re just starting out, you should aim for the lower end of this range. You can also choose a target heart rate based on your workout goals.
The target heart rate can be divided into five different zones to help you achieve different exercise goals. Heart rate increases with each higher zone.
Zone 1: 50%–60% of maximum heart rate
Zone 1 activities are considered “very easy”. In this area, you can have a conversation while exercising. Examples of zone 1 exercises include leisurely walking and stretching.
Zone 2: 60%–70% of maximum heart rate
Activities in Zone 2 are “easy”. You can still talk while exercising, but your speed has been increased from zone 1. You may walk or jog at a faster pace.
Zone 3: 70%–80% of maximum heart rate
In zone 3, your activity level is “moderate”. Exercising at this level can improve your lung and heart endurance—the length of time you can continue exercising without resting. If you are running, your breathing will be more difficult. You can still talk, but only one word at a time.
Zone 4: 80%–90% of maximum heart rate
Zone 4 Exercise is an “effort” activity. This movement cannot be sustained for a long time. Your breathing becomes more difficult, but you can still say a word or two if you have to. The 4-zone workout improves speed and overall exercise performance in short-term activities like sprinting.
Zone 5: 90%–100% of maximum heart rate
A zone 5 workout is “maximum effort.” At this point you will be “all in”. You will no longer be able to talk, and your activities will be short – like sprinting as fast as you can.
How to Improve Your Aerobic Capacity
Unless you’re an athlete or train for a specific sport, you should aim for a moderate (zone 3) activity level during exercise to improve heart health and aerobic capacity — your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This can easily be done with 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week.
You may find it challenging to measure your pulse during exercise. Using a device such as a smartwatch can help. However, heart rate monitors that use a chest strap are more accurate.
What is the best exercise for heart health?
Heart rate is measured by the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Heart rate zones are based on percentages of your (estimated) maximum heart rate and are usually divided into five zones. Exercise intensity increases as the area becomes higher. Heart rate zones can be used to help measure how hard you’re working out (and make sure you’re not over-exercising).
Check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program. You can also discuss your medications and other potential factors that may affect your heart rate to determine if zone training is right for you.
How does prednisone affect heart rate?
Knowing your maximum heart rate lets you know you’re pushing yourself during your workout, while also respecting your boundaries. Staying within your target heart rate range can help you improve your heart health and your aerobic capacity—two things that can help you live a long, healthy life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which heart rate zone should I be in?
The heart rate zone that works best for you will be based on your workout goals. If you want to improve your stamina, aim for zone 3. If you want to increase your speed to shorten the activity time, aim for zone 4 or 5.
Which heart rate zone is best for weight loss?
Exercise of any intensity will burn calories and aid in weight loss. However, moderate-intensity workouts in zone 3 will allow you to work out longer. This area also increases the amount of fat burned for energy.
How to increase resting heart rate?
Exercise is the best way to raise your resting heart rate. As your heart becomes more efficient through aerobic training, your resting heart rate will decrease.