Target Heart Rates

Updated:Apr 4,2014

Couple Running for Target Heart RateHow do you get your heart rate on target?

When you work out, are you doing too much or not enough?
There’s a simple way to know: Your target heart rate helps you hit the bull’s eye. “We don’t want people to over-exercise, and the other extreme is not getting enough exercise,” says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a cardiologist and professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla.

First Thing’s First
Before you learn how to calculate and monitor your target training heart rate, you have to know your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute while it’s at rest. 
It’s best to check it in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep and before you get out of bed. The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute, but it’s usually lower for physically fit people.  It also rises with age.

Hitttin’ the Target
Now you’re ready to determine your target training heart rate. As you exercise, periodically:

  • Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
  • Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist.
  • Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute. You want to stay between 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This range is your target heart rate. 

Know Your Numbers
The table below shows estimated target heart rates for different ages. In the age category closest to yours, read across to find your target heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. The figures are averages, so use them as general guidelines.

AgeTarget HR Zone 50-85%Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%
20 years 100-170 beats per minute200 beats per minute
30 years95-162 beats per minute190 beats per minute
35 years93-157 beats per minute185 beats per minute
40 years90-153 beats per minute180 beats per minute
45 years88-149 beats per minute175 beats per minute
50 years85-145 beats per minute170 beats per minute
55 years83-140 beats per minute165 beats per minute
60 years80-136 beats per minute160 beats per minute
65 years78-132 beats per minute155 beats per minute
70 years75-128 beats per minute150 beats per minute

Important Note: A few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you're taking such medicine, call your physician to find out if you need to use a lower target heart rate.

So what’s in a number?
If your target heart rate is too high, you’re straining. So slow down. If it’s too low, and the intensity feels “light” or “moderate/brisk,” push yourself to exercise a little harder. During the first few weeks of working out, aim for the lowest part of your target zone (50 percent). Then, gradually build up to the higher part (85 percent). After six months or more, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. But you don't have to exercise that hard to stay in shape.

 “It’s not an absolute, but it’s a good tool to have,” says Fletcher, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “And if you don’t know it, remember, if you’re not able to carry on a conversation (while exercising), that may be a bit too much.”

If you have a heart condition or you’re in cardiac rehab, talk to a healthcare professional about what exercises you can engage in, what your target heart rate should be and whether you need to be monitored during physical activity.  This will also help you to choose the types of physical activity that are appropriate for your current fitness level and health goals, because some activities are safer than others.

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This content was last reviewed on 03/22/2013.

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