Why Monitor Heart Rate?
Whether you are seeking to lose weight, increase endurance or build cardio fitness, monitoring your heart rate is instrumental in tracking the intensity of your workout and can help you make adjustments to your routine. There are a number of options to measure your heart rate including wearing a chest strap, a watch, or simply employing a self-monitoring technique.
The monitor choices in the market today range everywhere between models that are "no frills" to "techno geek" technology. The main appeal of a heart rate strap or watch is that you don't have to stop your routine to check your heart rate. It also shows your heart rate in real time and allows you to adjust your workout intensity accordingly. Monitoring yourself is quite simple, however. It's free and you don't have to worry about wearing a monitor everywhere you go!
What is Heart Rate?
Heart rate is the number of heart beats or contractions per unit of time, usually measured in minutes. It is commonly expressed as bpm or beats per minute. Heart rate fluctuates according to the body's requirement for oxygen and, depending on activity, can vary 10 beats per minute on an average day. Two significant fluctuations occur during exercise (highest bpm) and sleep (lowest bpm). For most adults, the ideal is between 60-100 bpm. Professional athletes are reported to have resting heart rates of 40-60 bpm.
Checking Your Heart Rate
There are several acceptable locations to check your heart rate. However, the carotid artery in the neck and the radial artery on the wrist are the most practical for self-monitoring your bpm at rest and during exercise. Your carotid artery runs vertically on each side of your neck. Using your dominant hand, place your fingers on the opposite side of your neck. You should feel a pulse under your jaw, at the half-point mark between your earlobe and chin. You can find the radial artery (wrist) about two to three fingers' distance from the bottom of your thumb. It will be located between the tendons that run through your forearm.
Be sure to use your index and middle finger pads to locate the spot. You can take your bpm for a full minute, but the easiest method is to take your heart beat for 15 seconds and then multiply the number of beats times four (60 seconds = 1 minute).
Your Resting Heart Rate
If you desire to monitor your heart beat to track athletic performance, first start with your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is defined as the beats per minute when you are at complete rest. It is recommended that you check your heart rate soon after you wake up, before getting out of bed.
Physical or emotional fluctuations can affect your heart rate, so keep in mind that needing to use the restroom, extreme emotions like stress or anger, quality of sleep, and quality of diet (use of caffeine, sugar or other stimulants) can elevate your resting heart rate.
To accurately determine your average resting heart rate, take your bpm for five consecutive days and calculate the average (by adding all five days' heart rates, then dividing by five). Your resting heart rate can also indicate your basic fitness level. When you are more fit and conditioned, it takes your heart fewer beats per minute to pump blood to your body. Continue to monitor your resting heart rate and compare it to the 60-100 bpm range. You can keep a journal to track your progress indicated by a decrease in bpm, demonstrating that the more you work out, your heart will become more efficient.
Finding Your Target Heart Rate Zone
In order to determine your target heart rate for exercising, you must first find your age-adjusted maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is defined by the highest number of times your heart can beat per minute. The most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate is in a medical facility monitored by a cardiologist. However, you can also project your age-adjusted maximum heart rate by using a standard formula that subtracts your age from 220. Then, to determine your target heart rate for exercising, you simply multiply your age-adjusted maximum heart rate by your desired Target Zone percentage (below).
Example: If you are 40 years old and looking for a workout with an intensity level of Light Exercise, multiply your age-adjusted maximum heart rate by 0.50 or 0.60 (according to the Target Zone percentages below).
Target Zones (also known as Intensity Levels)
The target heart rate zones are the variable intensity levels recommended to reap specific cardio results from your workout. The typical range for the most beneficial cardiovascular health is between 50-80% of your maximum heart rate.
50-60% - Light Exercise (moderate activity, including warm up)
60-70% - Weight Management (weight control, fat burn)
70-80% - Aerobic / Cardio (training and endurance)
80-90% - Aerobic Endurance (anerobic and hardcore training)
90-100% - Athlete (maximum effort)
Please note, it is always recommended to consult a physician before you start any workout regimen to determine the correct workout intensity for your age, current physical condition and desired results.