Want to really make a difference in your health and fitness? Don’t just move – exercise hard enough to raise your heart rate.
Aerobic exercise can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and cut your risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the nation’s leading causes of death.
“There are multiple health benefits overall,” said Dr. Patrick King, a sports medicine specialist at Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Thomasville. “We’re not a proactive society, we’re more reactive. We’ll see patients with diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease and help establish an exercise program for them. But it’s something you can do on the front end to help prevent some of those health issues from occurring.”
King suggested following the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations:
At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five times per week, for a total of 150 minutes
Or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three times per week, for a total of 75 minutes.
So, how do you define “moderate” and “vigorous” when considering your heart rate?
Start with 220, subtract your age and that number is your maximum heart rate, King said.
For moderate exercise, try to reach 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. That’s your target heart rate.
For vigorous exercise, aim for 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
“If for instance, you’re exercising with a friend and you can have a conversation during the activity, that’s moderate level,” King said. “If you’re exercising and you have to stop momentarily to catch your breath to speak, that’s vigorous.”
Example: You’re a 40-year-old. 220 minus 40 = 180 (your maximum heart rate). For moderate activity, you want your heart rate to be between 90 and 126 (that’s 50% to 70%) the entire 150 minutes you’re exercising. For vigorous, aim for a heart rate between 126 and 153 (that’s 70% to 85%) when you’re exercising.
King said it’s fine to mix up your aerobic activity. Perhaps one week you’ll do more moderate exercise; other weeks might be vigorous. A combination of both is beneficial, too.
When you’re exercising, you can measure your heart rate manually or electronically.
Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist.
Count your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to find your beats per minute.
Heart rate monitors use sensors located on a chest strap or on your wrist. Chest straps give more accurate readings. Wrist monitors are more convenient. Some of the most popular wrist monitors (also known as trackers) are Fitbit, Polar and Garmin.
“There’s no right or wrong way,” he said. ’It’s good to get involved with your healthcare. Get invested in yourself. For some people, exercising is a lifestyle change after years of not doing it. Lifestyle changes are hard. But you will benefit. Just get out there.”
Cliff Mehrtens is a senior corporate public relations specialist at Novant Health.