Living Columns & Blogs

Health break: Understand the pulse of physical fitness

It is important for everyone to understand heart rate, especially as it relates to physical fitness. Because a lot of New Year’s resolutions include a fitness or wellness component, now is a great time for a refresher of a few key terms and how they can be important tools in determining your overall heart health.

Pulse: Your pulse is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. It varies from person to person. It is lower when you are at rest and increases when you exercise.

Resting heart rate: This is when your heart rate (also called pulse) is slowest and the heart is pumping the least amount of blood your body needs. For adults who are sitting or lying, calm and relaxed, a resting heart rate is normally between 60 beats per minute and 80 or 100 beats per minute. For athletes, the resting heart rate could even be lower than 60 beats per minute.

It is best to determine your resting heart rate after you’ve had a good night’s sleep and while you’re still lying in bed.

Maximum heart rate: This is the highest your pulse rate can get. A common formula used to predict your maximum heart rate is: 220 minus your age equals your maximum heart rate per minute.

This is only an estimate. Your true maximum heart rate could be as many as 15 beats higher or lower than what this formula suggests.

10-second pulse: A quick way to determine your pulse is to count your heartbeats for ten seconds and then multiply this number by six. This will be your heart rate per minute. It is recommended that you take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, closest to your thumb. Use your first two fingertips and press lightly over the blood vessels until you feel your pulse.

What is your target heart rate zone?

When you are exercising, this is the range where you gain the most benefits with the least amount of risk. It is the heart rate to aim for when exercising. Typically, this is between 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. It is not recommended to exercise above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, as doing so can increase your health risk and does not add extra benefit.

For example, a 30-year-old man’s maximum heart rate would be approximately 190. Therefore, his target heart rate zone equates to between 95 and 162 beats per minute.

How do you use your target heart rate zone when exercising?

To determine if you are exercising in your target zone, stop exercising and check your 10-second pulse. If this number is below your target zone, increase your rate of exercise. If your pulse is above your target zone, decrease your rate and intensity of exercise. This is important information to know so that you’re not over-exercising or under-exercising.

As always, it is important to consult your health care provider before starting any new exercise program. Once you begin, gradually build up to a level that is within your target heart rate zone, especially if you have not exercised regularly before. If the exercise feels too hard, slow down. Remember to hydrate and stretch after exercise, too.

Jonathan Nachtigall is a cardiologist at Mount Nittany Physician Group.