Having the right tools aids weight loss, which is a critical health issue for many Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2009 to 2010, 37.5 percent of all adults in America were obese, a number that had increased significantly over the preceding 20 years 12. Obesity contributes to most of the chronic health issues facing Americans, including heart disease, which kills more adults in the U.S. than any other cause. Limiting your caloric intake and adding regular exercise into your routine is the best way to fight obesity. Using a heart rate monitor during your workout helps in achieving your weight loss goals.

Exercise and Weight Loss

Despite ongoing debate in the scientific community about the best way to lose weight, most research suggests that exercise plays a key role. Both the American Heart Association and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times per week 56. However, the focus of those guidelines is improving health -- particularly cardiovascular health -- not losing weight. A 2008 study led by John Jakicic of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, indicates that a minimum of 55 minutes per day, five days per week of moderate-intensity exercise is needed to sustain even moderate weight loss. The study further suggests that the longer you work out, the more weight you will lose.

Exercise Intensity: Understanding Target Heart Rates

Knowing your heart rate is the most reliable way to monitor the intensity of your workout. According to the American Heart Association, your target heart rate for weight loss is 50 to 85 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate, which is generally calculated as 220 minus your age 5. Doctors recommend that you aim for the lowest part of your target zone when you first start exercising. For example, a previously inactive 40-year-old man should aim for a heart rate of 90, calculated as 220 minus 40, or 180, multiplied by 50 percent. As he becomes more fit, the target heart rate slowly increases to a total of 85 percent of 180, or 153, over about six months.

Monitoring Your Heart Rate

Monitoring your heart rate can be difficult when you are exercising. What’s more, interrupting your workout to find your pulse and count your heartbeat is distracting and inconvenient, especially when you are just starting out. For this reason, many people opt for an automatic monitor to keep track of their heart rate. Available in chest strap and wrist band styles, these devices capture electrical signals from the heart and display them on an interface, usually on your wrist. The simplest styles display your average, highest and lowest heart rates, while more sophisticated models can analyze large amounts of data, including distance, location and even calories burned.

What Heart Rate Monitors Are the Best?

Choosing a heart rate monitor is largely a matter of budget and personal preference. Strapless models are the least expensive and least sophisticated. Most are designed simply to count your heartbeat when you place your finger on a sensor and work well for those who want a device to track their pulse. For continuous monitoring, you need to a chest strap, which allows the device to track many different parameters at one time. For instance, the moderately-priced New Balance Women’s N4 features three pre-programmed intensity levels and visual and audio alerts that help you stay in your target zone -- a great feature for anyone who is trying to lose weight. At the high end of the scale, the Suunto Ambit 2S provides sport-specific features that will track a variety of data points whether you are running, swimming or cycling. This is a useful feature for multi-sport training as well as those who prefer to cross-train while losing weight.