The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 – 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 – 150 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of the two.
But what does “moderate” really mean?
Ed Bendoraitis, an exercise physiologist at the Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says looking at your heart rate and your heart rate zones can help guide you.
“I use heart rates to see if the person is exercising at a rate that is beneficial for them,” says Bendoraitis. “It can also let me know if it is time to increase their training – if their heart rate is lower than previous sessions during the same exercise, then I know their heart is getting stronger and more efficient.”
What is your resting heart rate?
This one’s easy: It is simply how many times your heart beats per minute when you are at rest. Generally, you want this number to be lower because that usually means your heart is in good condition and doesn’t have to work hard to move blood throughout your body. For most, a number between 60 and 100 beats per minute is normal, but there are many factors that can play into this, including stress and medication, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care physician for assistance.
You can find your pulse, count how many beats occur over the course of 20 seconds and multiply by 3. Most fitness watches have the ability to do this built in.
How do you calculate your maximum heart rate? And why should I?
This one is also simple: Subtract your age from 220. That number serves only as a rough guideline, and could be complicated by several individual health factors, so it is important to speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Athletes should adjust their workout plans based off of what their bodies tell them during and after they exercise.
Generally, you should not be exercising at your maximum heart rate for long, as it could lead to overexertion and injury.
What is my “target heart rate?”
One of the many fitness words adorning treadmills and other various cardio machines at the gym is “target heart rate.” Now that you know your resting and maximum heart rate, you can figure out yours and what it means for your fitness goals.
Target heart rates are simply ranges of exertion calculated in relation to your maximum heart rate, detailed below.
If the math is intimidating, use a shorthand called the “talk test” to roughly guess what your heart rate zone is during exercise. How much talking you can do comfortably while you are exercising can give you a rough estimate on how much you are exerting. Bendoraitis says he recommends it to those who don’t have a monitor or are getting started in their journey to better health.
Moderate exercise are the zones between 50 and 70% of your maximum heart rate with vigorous activity fitting in to 70 and 85% of your maximum heart rate.
“For individuals starting out, I would get them in the light to moderate zone,” says Bendoraitis. “More experienced individuals can start pushing more into the moderate and hard zone – but that also depends on what the person’s goals are. Someone training to PR in a race might have a different approach than someone who is wanting to simply maintain their fitness level or stay active.”
Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more.