How do I Determine Optimal Heart Rate?

Ken Black

Generally, finding your optimal heart rate includes subtracting your age from the number 220, then multiplying by .75 and .85. This represents 75 to 85 percent of an individual's maximum heart rate, which most health professionals agree is the optimum heart rate for fat-burning, aerobic exercise. This heart rate may not be the optimal heart rate for everyone within those ages. Always check with a doctor before beginning any exercise program to truly understand what your limits are.

Long-distance runners pay attention to their heart rate while they exercise.
Long-distance runners pay attention to their heart rate while they exercise.

To illustrate how to do the mathematical calculations, consider an individual who is 30 years old. The maximum heart rate for a 30-year-old person is approximately 190 beats per minute (BPM). This is the number you arrive at after subtracting 30 from 220. Multiplying 190 by .75 and .85 gives an optimal heart rate of between 142.5 and 161.5 BPM. This is the level a 30-year old should try to maintain his or her heart rate when doing aerobic exercises.

Heart rate, or pulse rate, can be measured by finding an artery in the neck.
Heart rate, or pulse rate, can be measured by finding an artery in the neck.

For a 60 year old, the results are quite different. The maximum heart rate of a 60 year old is is 160 BPM. That leads to a target heart rate of between 120 and 136 BPM. No matter what your age, maintaining training in your optimal heart rate zone is a very important step to becoming a fitter individual.

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A physician can often give patients an accurate assessment of what their heart rate is and what it should be.
A physician can often give patients an accurate assessment of what their heart rate is and what it should be.

An optimal heart rate generally does not change substantially for people who get in better shape. The function of maximum heart rate is basically one of age. One of the things that may change, though, is how much work it will take to maintain an optimal, or target, heart rate once you starting getting into shape. As the heart and body begin to work more efficiently to deliver oxygen, your heart rate will respond accordingly.

Age is one factor used in determining a person's optimal heart rate.
Age is one factor used in determining a person's optimal heart rate.

Depending on how you are exercising, there could be a number of ways to keep track of an optimal heart rate. Many pieces of exercise equipment have sensors designed especially to track heart rate. These are generally located on the handles of the equipment being used, or you may wear a stand alone monitor on your wrist. If not using electronic training equipment, you can always just take your own pulse.

One of the easiest ways to check your pulse while exercising is to simply put two fingers along the side of your neck, just under the corner of the jawbone. Watch a clock for six seconds as you are counting the beats passing through your carotid artery. Multiply that by 10 to get your BPM result. Taking your pulse over a longer period of time and multiplying accordingly could yield slightly more accurate results.

A heart rate monitor is used by physicians to monitor a patient's heart rate.
A heart rate monitor is used by physicians to monitor a patient's heart rate.

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