Exercise “in the Zone”

Finding the right heart rate to reach your fitness and weight loss goals

Calculating Your Target Heart Rate

When you are exercising, how do you know if you are doing enough to make a difference? How do you know if you are doing too much and overdoing it? Monitoring your heart rate is a great way to keep you in the appropriate zone while exercising and assist you in meeting your fitness goals safely. Your target heart rate is simply a predetermined rate or intensity where you will train for your exercise session.

The most commonly used formula to calculate your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age in years.

220 – Age in Years = Maximum Heart Rate

For example, 220 – 40 years of age = 180. So, 180 beats per minute is the maximum heart rate in this example.

The maximum heart rate is then multiplied by a percentage to give you a target heart rate. In our example, a maximum heart rate of 180 x 60% would be 108 beats per minute.

Finding the Right Heart Rate for Your Goals

Heart rate zones range from very light to maximum effort. The table below from the American College of Sports Medicine summarizes percent ranges and respective efforts:

Source: Heart Rate Zone Training: Does It Work or Not? – NASM

When tracking your heart rate, the 60-75% range (light to moderate) is a good place to start for weight loss and overall health. Keep in mind that depending on your cardiovascular risk and fitness goals, the number will vary.

The key to weight loss is to achieve a caloric deficit (expending more calories than you take in). You will burn more calories per minute while training at a higher heart rate/intensity, but you won’t be able to sustain it for as long. When exercising at a lower heart rate/intensity you will burn a higher percentage of fat as a fuel. However, if you train in a heart rate range that’s too low you might not burn enough calories overall to create a deficit. The key is to choose an intensity that allows you to do enough work to see results without it being so difficult that you lose motivation.

Finally, engage in activities you enjoy! This will help keep you motivated and consistent when working toward your goals! Hint: There are many great tools available to assist you with staying in your target heart rate zone. Some popular apps and devices that monitor your heart rate include Fitbit and smart watches (such as Apple), and products from Garmin, Wahoo, and Polar.

Nicole Papanicolas, NP