Ask Dr. Arthur Agatston
Q: What is a good heart rate? I was on a treadmill, and it told me that my heartbeat was too high â€” what does this mean?
â€” Carol, Florida
Dr. Arthur Agatston A:
First, Iâ€™d be interested to learn how your heartbeat was taken while you were exercising. Thatâ€™s because there can be false readings on treadmills. Iâ€™ve had patients call me in a panic, saying that the treadmill or elliptical machine they were on registered a heart rate of 300. My first question to them is always, â€œWell, how did you feel when your heart rate was 300?â€ And they invariably say, â€œFine.â€ Believe me, if you really had a heart rate of 300, you wouldnâ€™t be feeling fine, so I know that the reading was an aberration.
One way to figure out whether youâ€™re exercising at a brisk enough pace to improve your cardiovascular system is to see if youâ€™re reaching your target heart rate for aerobic fitness, which is about 60 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). The formula differs slightly for women and men:
For women: To calculate your MHR, subtract your age from 226. If you are 43, for example, your MHR is 226 minus 43, or 183. If you are 58, it is 168. Multiply this resulting number by 0.60 and you will find your target heart rate, the recommended number of heartbeats per minute for improving your cardiovascular health. So if youâ€™re 43 and your MHR is 183, your target heart rate is 183 times 0.60, or 110. If youâ€™re 58 and your MHR is 168, itâ€™s 101.
For men: To calculate your MHR, subtract your age from 220. If you are 43, for example, your MHR is 220 minus 43, or 177. If you are 58, it is 162. Multiply this resulting number by 0.60 and you will find your target heart rate, the recommended number of heartbeats per minute for improving your cardiovascular health. So, if you are 43 and your MHR is 177, your target heart rate is 177 times 0.60, which equals 106. If you are 58 and your MHR is 162, itâ€™s 97.
A better indication of fitness, in my opinion, is how fast your heart can recover after you have completed your cardiovascular workout. Peopleâ€™s heart rates will go up or down depending on their age, fitness level, and other factors. If youâ€™re unfit and work out, your heart rate will go up rapidly and come down very slowly. As you get fitter, your heart rate will go up more slowly and come down more rapidly. That said, some older people are simply physiologically young and can reach higher heart rates than the age formula might indicate. On the other hand, some young people may never reach the heart rate suggested for their age due to what is known as chronotropic incompetence (a reduced heart rate response to exercise).
Remember, if you have symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, or shortness of breath when exercising, you should call your doctor, who will likely give you a stress test to see how your heart responds.
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Last Updated: 12/23/2008
Arthur Agatston, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He is also the creator of The South Beach Diet.
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