Heart Rate and Exercise Intensity
Is your heart rate an indicator of fitness?
“My Cardio session was great today! I could feel my heart beating fast the entire time!”
Does a very high heart rate necessarily mean a good thing? Is vigorous exercise the answer to our fitness woes? The answer is surprisingly NO!
So, first let’s dive a little deeper into the concept of heart rate.
Your heart is a pumping organ which circulates blood to the entire body. Each heartbeat supplies oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Heart rate simply means the number of times your heart beats per minute.
Resting Heart Rate
When you are in a resting state — sitting, lying, or even standing in a relaxed state, your heart rate is referred to as Resting Heart Rate. The ideal resting heart rate for a healthy adult is 72 beats per minute. But, it also varies from person to person, depending on factors like medications, medical conditions, and mental state. For example- Nervousness, anxiety, fever, anemia, pregnancy or even arousal can increase resting heart rate. Likewise, resting heart rate slows down when you fall asleep. High fitness level (in athletes, runners, physically active adults) is also associated with slower resting heart rate. So, the usual range is considered anywhere between 60–90 beats per minute.
However, if this resting heart rate remains abnormal for a longer period of time, it could lead to cardiac stress and may signal an underlying health condition.
A Lower Resting Heart Rate- Good or Bad?
Your resting heart rate is an indicator of your overall fitness and cardiovascular health. Studies show that a lower resting heart is a strong predictor of longer life, as it implies more efficient heart function, better endurance, and well-being. It is a vital sign of athletic fitness. However, a heart rate lower than 60 is not considered normal if it is accompanied with signs like fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness or labored breathing. Presence of any such symptom needs immediate medical attention to rule out any serious health complication.
Exercise Intensity and Heart Rate
Your heart rate during exercise tells about the intensity of exercise. The higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the exercise intensity. Exercise intensity is a subjective measurement of how much exertion you will feel during a certain activity. It is variable for every person, depending upon age and fitness level. For example- as you start a new exercise regime, what feels very hard in the beginning will feel fairly easy once you have achieved a certain fitness level.
A slow and steady maintenance of heart rate during physical activity prevents acute cardiovascular events. There have been many cases where strenuous physical exercise/ high intensity exercise without proper monitoring of heart rate led to cardiac arrest. Also, there’s a fine line between over-exercising and not exercising enough. When exercising vigorously, our heart rate increases to about 70 to 80% of our maximum heart rate.
Maintaining a moderate level of intensity is good for the health of your heart which can be easily achieved by exercising at 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. This is known as the Goldilocks Zone which is a sweet spot between exercising neither too much nor too little! You can estimate your maximum age-related heart rate using a simple formula- Subtract your age from 220. For Example: Maximum Heart Rate for 30 year old adult will be 220-30 = 190. So, this person should target a heart rate not more than 60% of 190 for moderate-intensity exercise.
Healthcare experts suggest that regular workouts should consist of a 5-minute warm-up, 30–40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and a 5-minute cool-down. To attain your fitness goals, it is important that the intensity of exercise be increased gradually. If you are just beginning a new exercise regime, it is best to start with low intensity.
Along with exercise, it is important to maintain heart health by following a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and managing stress.
Remember, the only person who can keep YOU the healthiest is YOU!
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