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Heart Rate & Exercise

Following my most recent blog post (Calories and Exercise), I thought now was a great time to discuss heart rate (HR) before, during and after exercise. You don’t necessarily need any fancy equipment to measure HR (we’ll discuss pulse rates below) although most fitness watches can measure heart rates for us too nowadays.

HR is measured in beats per minute (bpm) and is the number of contractions of the heart within one minute. An average resting heart rate (RHR) is between 60-100bpm, and the lower the number of that range means the heart pumps blood around the body more efficiently and that the person has better cardiovascular fitness, than that of a higher RHR. Well trained athletes may have a RHR of even lower than 60bpm.

When exercising it can be useful for consider maximum heart rates (MHR) and training zones. To find your MHR complete the sum (220 – your age); for me at age 24 as I write this, my MHR would be 196bpm (220-24). On average, you then use between 60-80% of your MHR to train during sessions in order for adaptions to occur and depending on the goal of the training session. 60% of my MHR is 118bpm (196 x 0.6), whilst 80% of my MHR is 157bpm (196 x 0.8). By “adaptions” I am talking about improvements in efficiency of the heart – how well it pumps blood round the body, and also for metabolism of energy (carbs, fats, sugars etc that are used during exercise or stored for everyday energy use such as climbing stairs and brain power during work!). However, this can’t be taken as a concept of “one session at 80% MHR is going to instantly make my heart stronger”… it does need to be done regularly. If you’re looking for more weight loss then you want to work at a higher rate than if you are just wanting to maintain fitness levels – over time you’ll be able to work within higher heart rates than when you started.

To look even more deeply into this concept of training zones, it’s important to consider if you are a beginner to exercise, intermediate gym-goer, or advanced professional athlete. It’s fairly simple to understand that it’s not possible to put a beginner into a training HR zone of 90% for example… it would be dangerous for long periods of time. This being said, they may hit 90% MHR for a 30 second block for example if the exercise is particularly intense and their heart isn’t used to this capacity… I wouldn’t recommend it, but technically it could happen.