Achieve Your Optimal Heart Rate Through Exercise

When it comes to determining what an optimal heart rate is, one size does not fit all. Your heart rate is impacted by your age and your activity level. It can also be affected by stress, anxiety, hormones and medications.

Your resting heart rate is considered a baseline measure of your heart health. This is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. If your number is anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm), that is considered normal. It indicates your heart muscle is healthy and can easily maintain a steady rhythm. Some athletes may even have resting heart rates as low as 40 bpm!

Resting heart rates above this range, however, have been linked to lower physical fitness and higher blood pressure and body weight.  One way to lower your resting heart rate is by engaging in regular exercise. Before you start your exercise regime, you will want to have a sense of what your target heart rate should be while engaged in physical exercise.

To determine your target rate, first determine your maximum heart rate. This is the maximum number of beats made by your heart in one minute of effort. Generally speaking, your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate during moderately intensive activity is generally about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. During vigorous activity it could be up to 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

If you are 55, your maximum heart rate would be about 165 (220-55=165). To determine your target heart rate during moderate activity, you take that number and multiply it by 60 percent (.6) and your target hear rate would be 99 bpm. If you were engaged in strenuous exercise that number might be closer to 123 bpm.

If you have resolved to make regular exercise a part of your daily routine and want to achieve your target heart rate, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends these exercise guidelines for most healthy adults:

Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, swimming or mowing the lawn. You can also do 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or aerobic dancing. A combination of moderate and vigorous activity over the course of a week is beneficial.  

Strength training. Add strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. Consider free weights, weight machines or activities that use your own body weight — such as rock climbing or heavy gardening. Or try squats, planks or lunges. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide great health benefits. Only about one in five adults gets enough exercise to maintain good health. If you are sedentary, just starting to stand up and sit less is a great place to start.