If your family has a history of heart disease, it's easy to spend sleepless nights worrying about your own health. But instead of fretting, take action by hopping out of bed in the morning and getting some exercise. Keeping active provides a wealth of benefits, including better heart health. And the workout you choose doesn't have to be complicated; a simple walk can boost your heart rate enough to improve your overall health.
Resting Heart Rate
Before you set out on your walk, find your resting heart rate. This is an effective way to determine how much your heart rate increases during exercise. MayoClinic.com reports that an adult's resting heart rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Several factors contribute to this wide range, including your body size, stress level and any medication you're taking. For example, if your resting heart rate is typically around 80 beats per minute, you can increase it even if you're not moving -- just by encountering a stressful situation.
Checking Your Heart Rate
You don't need fancy equipment or a visit to the doctor's office to check your own heart rate. Hold your index and middle fingers together and find your pulse on either side of your throat. When you can clearly identify each beat, look at a clock or watch and begin counting the beats. You don't need to count for 60 seconds to get the reading; try counting the beats for 15 seconds and then multiplying that number by 4 to get your heart rate. Use this technique during periods of rest and during your walk to note the change in your heart rate.
Walking Heart Rate
Your walking heart rate depends on a number of factors, including your resting heart rate and the speed and incline of your walk. In an article on the American Heart Association's website, Dr. Richard Stein notes that moderate exercise won't generate much of an increase in your heart rate. If you're taking a slow walk on even ground, don't expect your heart rate to increase more than a few beats per minute over your resting heart rate; if you're walking briskly uphill, your heart will beat more times per minute.
Target Heart Rate
Too much exertion during exercise can put undue strain on your heart, and knowing just how hard you should work is a key to staying healthy. To determine your maximum heart rate, which is the hardest your heart should work, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you're 40, your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute. The American Heart Association recommends exercising so that your heart rate is beating at between 50 and 85 percent of the maximum rate; for someone who's 40, the target heart rate is between 90 and 153 beats per minute.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.