Heart rate is a term used to define the number of times you heart beats in a minute. When you exercise, this rate accelerates in order to supply your body with a sufficient amount of oxygen-rich blood. Recommendations for a safe heart rate during exercise vary according to your age and general fitness level.
Resting Heart Rate
At rest, the average healthy human heart beats between 60 and 100 times a minute. If you are a trained athlete, your resting rate may fall as low as 40 to 60 beats per minute. In addition to your level of physical conditioning, factors that can raise or lower your resting heart rate include your body size and position, emotional state and medication usage, as well as the air temperature of your immediate environment.
Maximum Heart Rate
Before exercising, you should calculate your maximum heart rate, a term that describes the highest rate at which your heart can safely beat. To determine this rate, subtract your current age from the number 220. Depending on your level of fitness, you should aim to exercise at anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of this maximum rate. During exercise, you can measure your heart rate by taking your pulse at any area where blood in an artery flows near the surface of your skin. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus lists locations for checking your pulse that include your wrists, neck, temples and groin, as well as the backs of your knees and the inner sides or tops of your feet.
Target Heart Rate
Your recommended level of exertion during exercise is called your target heart rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typically, if you are new to exercising, you should aim for a target rate of roughly 50 percent of your maximum capability. As you get used to regular exercise, you can increase your rate up to your top limit of 85 percent of maximum capability. Once you can exercise safely at 85 percent of capacity, you can actually lower your level of heart exertion and still retain the benefits of your physical activities.
If checking your pulse during exercise is impractical or unappealing, you can also estimate your level of exertion by gauging your ability to talk while exercising. If you can hold a conversation during exercise, you are probably exerting yourself to a healthy degree. However, if you have enough energy to sing, you can probably work harder. If you cannot talk at all or have trouble catching your breath, lower your rate of exertion to a more acceptable level.
Consult Your Doctor
If you take medications for high blood pressure, you may have decreased practical levels for both your maximum and target heart rates. Ask your doctor for advice in these circumstances. In some cases, you may have a resting heart rate that is dangerously high or low. If you have a rate consistently above 100 bpm or below 60 bpm, consult your doctor regarding exercise safety.