What Should Our Maximum Heart Rate Be During Exercise?

You have your runners on, your Fitbit is charged, but now what?

When you exercise, your heart and breathing rates increase, delivering greater quantities of oxygen from the lungs to the blood, then to exercising muscles.

Determining an optimal heart rate for exercise depends on your exercise goal, age, and current fitness level.

Heart rate and exercise intensity share a direct, linear relationship: the more intense the exercise, the higher the heart rate.

Exercise makes your heart more efficient

Typical resting heart rate can vary quite substantially between people and even within an individual. Around 60-80 beats per minute (BPM) for adults is common.

Improving your aerobic fitness reduces your resting heart rate, as the heart becomes more efficient with each beat. An athlete’s resting heart rate, for instance, is typically around 40 BPM.

In fact, evidence suggests that long-term exercise training increases the size of the heart, specifically the left ventricle, a phenomenon known as “Athlete’s Heart”. A bigger heart means more blood can be pumped with each beat, and fewer beats per minute are required to maintain blood flow around the body. This is a beneficial physiological adaptation allowing athletes to exercise at higher intensities for longer.

How to calculate your maximal heart rate

The authors of a 2001 study proposed the following revised equation for estimating maximal heart rate:

HRMax = 208 – (0.7 x Age)

This means a 45-year-old would have a predicted HRmax of 177 BPM.

Indeed, our genetics can influence actual maximal heart rates from their predicted value. However, HRmax is not a major determinant of exercise or athletic performance. Far more important is our physiological efficiency.

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