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Is Walking Enough?

November 2006
Is Walking Enough?

Increase Your Intensity To Achieve Cardiovascular Fitness!

Walking is a great basic exercise for beginners, seniors, and people with disabilities, but for those of you who want to lose weight and improve your level of cardiovascular fitness, the intensity at which you exercise is crucial. The optimum exercise intensity for fitness improvement is in the range of about 50% to 85% of maximum oxygen consumption. This means that during cardiovascular or aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking, or biking, your heart must beat in the range of 50% to 85% of its highest maximum rate—the highest rate at which the heart can pump blood to your body.

Figuring Your Exercise Target Heart Rate Range

Maximum heart rate is a number related to your age. As we grow older, our hearts beat slower. To figure out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, 220 – 40 = 180. Therefore, your maximum heart rate (MHR) is 180 beats per minute. At a low intensity workout (working out at around 50% of your MHR), your heart rate would be 90 beats per minute (bpm). At a high intensity workout (working out at 80%) your heart rate would be 144 bpm. So, for a 40 year old, the exercise target heart rate should be between 90 and 144 bpm.

It is important to note that if you are a beginner, you should start exercising at the lower end and work up to the higher intensity as your fitness level improves. Knowing your target heart rate range and exercising within this range is relevant to your exercise program because if you are always exercising close to the lower end of your heart rate range (or not even in the target heart rate range), you may not improve your fitness level. Also, results such as weight loss are slow as you are not being challenged and your body is not burning enough calories. This is why some people are not successful at losing weight when they always follow the same walking routine in which their exercise heart rate is at the low-moderate range of their maximum heart rate.

Evaluating Your Workout: Are You in Your Target Range?

How do you conveniently measure your heart rate while exercising? Portable heart rate monitors are an excellent and easy way to measure heart rate. These consist of wearing a chest strap that picks up the actual heart rate and transmits the signal to a digital receiver worn on the wrist. These monitors are affordable and readily available at local sporting goods stores.

Alternative Method for Those on Medications

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. Therefore, in this situation it may be more difficult to accurately gauge the level of exercise intensity. Another effective 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 how one is feeling in terms 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 cardiorespiratory workouts. The RPE Scale chart describes the rating of feelings caused by physical exertion. The 0 to 2 category is the amount of energy exerted, for instance, if you are sitting watching television or reading a book. Therefore, the exertion here is very weak. The 3 to 4 category is from walking to a brisk walk to a light jog feeling of exertion. In this range, 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 would provide a feeling that would be consistent of chasing a dog down the street and the exertion level of this would be the "huffing" and "puffing" feeling and getting out of breath. Carrying on a normal conversation would be difficult here. For those of you who have been exercising for a while and want to increase your intensity, exercise should promote the feelings described in this category (out of breath feeling, difficulty carrying on a conversation, etc.)

(Source: American Council on Exercise)

How Long and How Often to Exercise

It is vital to note that along with intensity; the duration and frequency of exercise are equally significant when it comes to achieving cardiovascular fitness. The heart is a muscle and has the capability to grow stronger just like any other muscle of the body. To improve cardiovascular fitness and maintain body fat at optimum levels, exercise should be performed three to five times a week of at least 30 minutes duration.

So if your walking program has gotten stale and is not producing the desired results, why not kick it up a beat—heart beat, that is!

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.

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