It can be difficult to know how much benefit you’re actually getting from exercising. You may wonder if you’re pushing yourself enough physically or if you could stand to increase the intensity of your workouts. One way to know is by learning your heart rate zone and tracking your heart rate.

Monitoring your heart rate is one of the best ways to measure a workout’s effectiveness. Read on to learn what a heart rate zone is, why it matters, and how to calculate your heart rate zone.

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What Are Heart Rate Zones?

As the American Heart Association (AHA) explains, a heart rate zone — measured in beats per minute — is a number range based on your age that reflects your ideal heart rate during various activities.

You can maximize workouts by making sure that your heart rate falls in the appropriate zone. If your heart rate is too low, you may want to increase the intensity of your workout. But if your heart rate is too high, the strain might cause problems. Studies have shown that athletes who exercise too intensely have longer recovery times and can experience problems such as irregular heartbeats.

How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Zone

Calculating your heart rate zone is simple: Find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your heart rate zone is between 50 and 85 percent of that number. You can also use the American Council on Exercise‘s interactive heart rate zone calculator. Remember that these numbers provided are averages and should only be used as a guideline.

Your Resting Heart Rate

The AHA recommends that you find your resting heart rate, or resting pulse, before starting any exercise routine. Your resting heart rate is a good baseline for determining what’s normal and healthy for you. To find your resting heart rate, you can either use a smartwatch, fitness tracker, or follow these steps:

  1. Find your pulse by placing two fingers on the inside of your wrist, just below your thumb. Press lightly on the artery there. (Don’t press on your thumb — it has its own pulse that you might feel.)
  2. Once you find your heartbeat, count the beats for 30 seconds.
  3. Double the result to get the number of beats per minute.

Factors That Can Affect Your Heart Rate

For most people, 60–80 beats per minute is a normal heart rate. However, it can vary based on multiple factors including:

  • Your lifestyle (how active you are)
  • Emotions and stress
  • Medicines
  • Body position while taking your pulse
  • Environmental factors, such as air temperature and pressure

If you take medicines such as beta blockers that affect your heart, talk to your doctor about what your heart rate should be at rest and while exercising.

You should talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regimen, especially if you have a heart condition. To learn more about heart rate zones and heart health, visit the specialists at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-876-2484 for an appointment.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute ranks among the best in the United States for complete cardiovascular care. U.S. News & World Report lists UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the top hospitals nationally for cardiology and heart surgery. We treat all manners of heart and vein conditions, from the common to the most complex. We are creating new medical devices and cutting-edge treatments that may not be available at other hospitals. We also offer screenings, free clinics, and education events in the community.