Improve Your Cardiovascular Fitness
Activities such as jogging, walking, or biking will make a difference when they are done with enough intensity so that your heart beats in the range of 50 to 85 percent of its maximum rate.
Maximum heart rate (MHR) is related to your age. As we grow older, our hearts beat slower. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, 220 – 40 = 180, so your MHR is about 180 beats per minute (bpm). At a low intensity workout, around 50 percent of your MHR, your heart rate would be 90 bpm. At a high intensity workout, say 80 percent, your heart rate would be 144 bpm. So, for a 40-year-old, the exercise target heart rate should be in the range between 90 and 144 bpm.
If you are a beginner, definitely start exercising at the lower end of your range and work up to the higher intensity as your fitness level improves. If you always exercise close to the lower end of your heart rate range, you may not improve your fitness level. Also, results such as weight loss are slow, as your body is not burning enough calories. This is why some people are not successful at losing weight when they always follow the same routine, with their exercise heart rate in their low-moderate range.
Portable heart rate monitors are an affordable way to measure heart rate and are available at sporting goods stores. Even though monitoring heart rate during exercise is an excellent method of measuring intensity for the healthy population, it is important to know that certain medications such as beta-blockers may lower or alter the heart rate, making it more difficult to accurately gauge the level of exercise intensity.
An effective alternate method to monitor exercise intensity is to use the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a subjective way of measuring how hard you are exercising and takes into consideration your feelings of fatigue, breathing, or discomfort. Use of the heart rate monitor and the RPE Scale is the most effective way to measure exercise intensity so that you can get the most from your cardio workouts. On the RPE Scale, the 0 to 2 category is the amount of energy exerted when sitting watching television or reading a book. The 3 to 4 category correlates to the feeling of a brisk walk to a light jog: you might get a little out of breath carrying on a conversation depending on your individual fitness level. Beginners should start here. The 5 to 6 and upwards category is like chasing a dog down the street, and the exertion level would be “huffing and puffing” and getting out of breath. Carrying on a normal conversation would be difficult. For people who have been exercising for a while and want to increase intensity, exercise should be at this level.
Along with intensity, the duration and frequency of exercise are significant in achieving cardiovascular fitness. Finally, remember that the heart is a muscle and can grow stronger, so increase the intensity and challenge it!
Please note: It is important to get a complete physical before beginning an exercise program as certain medical conditions and medications can alter heart rate. The information provided above is for healthy populations. If you have any known medical problems, are on medication, or have never exercised before and want to begin, please consult your physician first.
Aarti Patel serves as the columnist for Fitness Lifestyle. She has a B.Sc. in Health Information Administration and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal and Group Fitness Instructor, and Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach. She can be reached at (404)-376-5655; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column rotates monthly along with the Ask the Doctor column by Gulshan Harjee, M.D.
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