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Does Age Affect the Heart Rate & Response to Exercise?

By Jackie Carmichael

Your target heart rate, which should be achieved during exercise, depends on your age. The standard formula for determining maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, the maximum heart rate for a 60-year-old is 160, though the maximum heart rate for a 30-year-old is 190. Your target heart rate during exercise is a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Therefore, your age does affect your heart's response to exercise.

Target Heart Rate

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the target heart rate that should be achieved during moderate-intensity exercise is 50 percent to 70 percent of the maximum. The target heart rate that should be achieved during vigorous-intensity exercise is 70 to 85 percent of the maximum. Before you exercise and determine a target heart rate, see your doctor and have a complete physical exam. Your doctor can give instructions about what exercises you should and shouldn't pursue, and if it's safe for you to exercise to the standard target heart rate for your age.

Types of Exercise

You should exercise 30 minutes daily. To exercise and increase your heart rate, you don't have to go to a gym. Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise or physical activities include brisk walking -- about 3.5 miles per hour, hiking, light yard work like gardening, golf, bicycling -- less than 10 miles per hour -- or light weight training. Some examples of vigorous activity-intensity exercise or physical activities include running or jogging, bicycling -- more than 10 miles per hour, swimming laps, aerobics, very fast walking -- 4.5 miles per hour, heavy yard work like chopping wood, heavy weight lifting or competitive basketball.

Exercise and Aging Heart

According to the National Institute on Aging, the body's capacity to perform vigorous exercise decreases 50 percent between 20 and 80 years-of-age. During activity, the heart rate rises but cannot rise as high when you are older. For example, a 20 year-old can increase cardiac output during exercise three to four times resting levels. An 80 year-old can increase cardiac output only two times more than resting levels. The older heart responds to the increased demands of exercise by adapting, but it is still pumping less blood because it can't beat as fast.


There are cardiac risks associated with exercise, but being physically active outweighs the risks of being sedentary. Though exercise is beneficial, these recommendations can increase exercise safety if you are older. Don't pursue vigorous activities daily, or your body will become too tired; substitute walking for jogging because brisk walking is adequate aerobic activity and easier on the knees; avoid activities that risk having collisions with other people or objects since vision, hearing and balance often gets worse with age. Environmental extremes are poorly tolerated, so be aware of exercising in hot or cold temperatures, and use caution if you are taking medications that can cause extreme low blood pressure or dizziness, such as hypertensive medications.

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