Your ideal heart rate -- especially when you're sweating to death on the treadmill -- can seem like a mysterious puzzle to solve. While everyone's ideal heart rate varies slightly, there are several reliable formulas you can use to estimate a safe and healthy heart rate during your cardio routine.
Understanding Heart Rate
During exercise, the muscles require more blood and oxygen to function properly. The heart pumps more quickly and vigorously, elevating both your blood pressure and pulse. Although a rapid heart rate can be a sign of health problems when you're resting, during exercise it actually helps to exercise the cardiac muscles and reduce your risk of heart problems. Treadmill exercise -- whether walking or running -- is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Walking is low- or moderate-intensity exercise, while running is high intensity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 75 minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.
Calculating Heart Rate
Your maximum possible heart rate is generally around 220 minus your age. So, for example, a 20-year-old's maximum heart rate would be around 200 beats per minute. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that, during exercise, your target heart rate should be 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your target heart rate, deduct your age from 220. Then multiply that number by 60 and 80 percent -- 80 percent for a more intense exercise and 60 percent for a less intense exercise. For a 30-year-old woman, deduct her age from 220 to get 190. Then, for a high-intensity workout, multiply this number by 0.8 to get 152, and by 0.6 to get 114 for a lesser intensity.
Monitoring Heart Rate
Everyone's target heart rate varies slightly, and medications, physical conditions and your overall health can greatly alter your ideal heart rate. Thus it's important to consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine. After you get your doctor's authorization and recommendations, you can monitor your heart rate using a heart rate monitor connected to your arm or chest. For a lower-tech approach, take your pulse by locating the beat on your wrist. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds, then multiply the number by six. This is your heart rate.
Slowing Heart Rate
People often struggle with getting their heart rate to slow down after exercise, particularly if they're out of shape. To lower your heart rate -- or keep it under control during intense workouts -- drink plenty of water and warm up and cool down before your exercise. Breathe in slowly and deeply and then exhale slowly. Your body needs more oxygen during exercise, and insufficient oxygen can cause your heart rate to speed up to compensate for the lack of oxygen supplied to your muscles and organs.
- Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology; Gerald Audesirk et al.
- Cleveland Clinic: Pulse and Target Heart Rate
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.