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How Important Is Heart Rate Monitoring During Exercise?

By Melanie Greenwood

If you've been to the gym recently, you might have seen fellow exercisers taking their pulse. If so, you may have wondered how important heart-rate monitoring is when you exercise, and whether pausing long enough to check your heart rate is worth it. It is. Keeping track of your heart rate can help ensure you get the best possible workout.

Your Target Heart Rate

Your target heart rate is the number of beats per minute you should aim for during your workout. It's a percentage of your maximum heart rate, the number of beats per minute you should never exceed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend exercising at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate if you're in good physical shape but sticking to 40 to 50 percent if you are not in shape or are new to exercise. You can find your target heart rate by using calculators like that provided by the American Cancer Society.

Problems of Undertraining

Monitoring your heart rate helps you avoid undertraining, which is working out at too low an intensity. If you undertrain, you won't burn enough calories to lose weight -- if that's one of your goals -- and you won't put in enough effort to build strength and cardiovascular endurance. If you're paying for a gym membership, undertraining means wasting money as well as time.

Problems of Overtraining

Monitoring your heart rate also helps you avoid overtraining, or working too hard for your fitness level. If you work out too hard, you put yourself at risk for health problems. For example, you could become dehydrated, causing your blood pressure to drop, making you dizzy and putting you at risk for fall injuries. Chronic overtraining can increase your susceptibility to infections and chronic pain, according to the American Council on Exercise.

How to Take Your Pulse

To take your pulse, the National Institutes of Health recommend using your wrist. Place two fingers on your wrist below the base of your thumb, count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by six to get your heart rate per minute. If you're not good at mental math, you can count your pulse for six seconds and multiply by 10. If you don't want to stop your workout to take your pulse, you can invest in a heart rate monitor or use the "talk test." When working out at moderate intensity, you should be able to speak, but not sing.

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