For maximum benefit from cardiovascular exercise, one’s heart rate should be within a target range. There are simple formulas to determine your target heart rate.

A basic exercise program consists of three components – cardiovascular or “aerobic” exercise, strength training and flexibility enhancement. The cardiovascular or aerobic portion is often considered the key portion of fitness training because of its influence on such factors as weigh management and the health of your heart and lungs. It is defined as any repetitious, sustained movement of large muscle groups that elevates your heart rate and includes activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling and dancing.

There are certain guidelines that are put forth in order for you to get maximum benefit from your cardiovascular training. The elements generally discussed are frequency, intensity and duration. Although frequency and duration are relatively straightforward (at least 3 times per week for 30 minute or more), intensity requires more explanation.

A common measure used in cardiovascular activity to measure intensity is heart rate because it is directly affected by how hard the body is working. Our muscles require more oxygen, the blood carries the oxygen and the heart pumps the blood. So when we are doing a nonstop movement using large muscle groups, our hearts will have to beat faster to keep up with the oxygen demand. Target Heart Rate is the optimum level that is both safe and at which you derive maximum benefit from aerobic exercise.
Your Target Heart Rate is most affected by age and current fitness level.

There are several methods in use to determine Target Heart Rate, but the easiest is to use a percentage of your estimated maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age. So if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 180, if you’re 50 it would be 170, and so on.

Once you’ve determined your maximum heart rate, you need to determine what percentage of that rate is the best intensity level for you. Fitness professionals generally recommend that people exercise between 60 and 75 % of your maximum, though a threshold of 50% puts the exercise into the category of aerobic training. Take the example of the 40 year old. If you then multiply 180 by 60 – 75%, that would give you a range of 108- 135 beats per minute.

If you’re just starting out with an exercise program, you’d start by exercising at 60%, and as you become more fit, you should safely be able to exercise at 75%. Conditioned athletes will often work out at 85% of their maximum heart rate, but that is by no means necessary to work that hard to stay in shape.

Heart rate can be monitored by periodically checking your pulse. The best place to check is the carotid artery in your neck, which is located just to the side of your Adam’s apple. You can also use the radial pulse located on the thumb side of your wrist. Count the number of beats in 6 seconds and multiply by 10. If your target heart rate is 135, and you count 15 beats in 10 seconds, that means you need to slow down!

Although unnecessary, an increasingly popular method of monitoring heart rate is with a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor consists of a strap that you wear around your chest, and a “watch” that displays your heart rate. These devices can be very simple or quite sophisticated and the prices vary accordingly.

It is generally recommended that anyone who is either over 35 or who has medical problems, consult with a physician before starting any exercise program. Also, certain high blood pressure medications lower the heart rate, so people in this category may need to exercise may have a lower Target Heart Rate. If you are uncertain, you should ask your doctor.