Heart rate is the single best indicator of exercise intensity. If your heart rate is too low during exercise, you will rarely see the results that you want to see. If it is too high, you will likely become exhausted prematurely and ultimately probably give up on your exercise program because it is just too taxing. The happy medium is called your Target Heart Rate. It is based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
Maximum Heart Rate = 220 - Your Age
There are differing opinions about where to go from here. Most people concur that the Target Heart Rate zone is 50 to 75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). I would submit, however, that there are multiple “target” zones based on your overall fitness goals. Elsewhere, they may be called by different names, but let’s call them Active Zone, Aerobic Zone, Training Zone, and Above Zone.
Active Zone (50 – 60% MHR): This isn’t much! This is very light intensity activity/exercise. Depending on your beginning fitness level, 50% MHR may be near your resting heart rate. About the only thing that will drop your heart rate below 50% is sitting or lying down. The encouraging thing is that most of the calories burned at this level of activity are fat calories. Imagine spending an entire day above 50%.
Aerobic Zone (60 – 70% MHR): Do the math…this is still pretty low, but at this level of exertion, your body has the ideal level of oxygen coming in to properly combust maximum calories and fat.
Training Zone (70 – 85% MHR): This is where cardiovascular and endurance gains are made. This level of intensity is frankly taxing, but not exhausting.
Listen to your body, or better yet, let a heart rate monitor do the listening for you!