How Much is Enough?

How hard do you need to work for an effective workout?
When it comes to exercising, I’m often asked “How hard do I need to work?”
“Is gentle walking really beneficial or do I need to get all hot and sweaty in order to achieve my goals?” The answer depends on what it is you are trying to achieve.
Here are 3 of the most often talked about benefits of exercise and some general recommendations on how hard you need to work to achieve the benefits you seek. Whether you’re goal is to run a marathon, lose weight or improve your fitness, read on to find out how you can determine your ideal heart rate range for your training sessions.

Benefit 1 – Improved Health
Many people commence an exercise program with the aim of improving their health – to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, have more energy, flexibility or mobility. For improved health, aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days at 50 to 60% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)*

Benefit 2 – Weight Control
One of the most common reasons people commence an exercise program is for weight loss. If weight loss and/or weight maintenance is your goal, you need to aim for a training heart rate range of 60 – 70% of your MHR for 45 to 60 minutes at least 4 times a week*.

Benefit 3 – Aerobic Fitness
If improved aerobic fitness is your goal, aim for a training heart rate range of 70 – 80% of your MHR for 30 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 times per week (“Walking for improved health and weight management” – The Heart Shop

What is my Maximum Heart Rate and how do I find it?No Flogging
Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) is the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute under maximum physical load. Aside from undertaking a Maximal Exercise Test (eg. running on a treadmill for 10 to 20 minutes whilst increasing speed and slope), the most common and easiest method to determine your Maximum Heart Rate is via the formula: 220 minus your age in years
Eg. For a 40 year old, Maximum Heart Rate is 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute (bpm)

How do I calculate my Training Range?
Using the example above of a 40 year old, if this person is looking for:
1. The health benefits of exercise, their aim would be to keep their heart rate between 50 and 60% of 180
0.5 * 180 and 0.6 * 180 or 90 to 108 bpm.

2. To lose weight, their aim would be to keep their heart rate between 60 and 70% of
180 0.6 * 180 and 0.7 * 180 or 108 to 126 bpm.

3. Improved fitness, their aim would be to keep their heart rate between 70 and 80%
of 180 0.7 * 180 and 0.8 * 180 or 126 to 144 bpm.

Using HRR to calculate Training Range**
For those of you who may have been exercising for some time and think that perhaps 70 to 80% of 220 minus your age is a little low, there is an alternate method for calculating your training range using your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR). HRR is the difference between your MHR and your Resting Heart Rate (RHR).

HRR is calculated via the formula:220 minus your age in years minus your Resting Heart Rate
Eg. For a 40 year old with an RHR of 60 bpm, HRR is 220 – 40 – 60 = 120 bpm

When calculating training ranges using HRR, the training range percentages are applied to the HRR rather than the MHR and the RHR is then added back to give the recommended bpm for training.

For example, using the HRR above (120 bpm) to calculate the training range for:
1. The health benefits of exercise (50 and 60%)
(0.5 * 120) + 60 and (0.6 * 120) + 60 or 120 to 132 bpm.

2. To lose weight (60 and 70%) (0.6 * 120) + 60 and (0.7 * 120) + 60 or 132 to 144 bpm.

3. For improved aerobic fitness (70 and 80%)
(0.7 * 120) + 60 and (0.8 * 120) + 60 or 144 to 156 bpm.

Important Things to Remember when changing or commencing an exercise program

  • If you are over 35, have existing medical conditions or injuries or have been inactive for some time, you should consult your doctor or health professional before commencing a new exercise program
  • When exercising within your Training Range, the intensity of your exercise should increase your breathing to a point where you are still able to talk comfortably but not able to sing
  • If you have been exercising below your Training Range and wish to increase your intensity, gradually build up to the desired beats per minute rather than make a dramatic increase in your effort. This will allow your body to adapt to the increased workload, reduce the risk of injury and help keep you motivated with your fitness program

** Source – Australian Institute of Fitness, Australian Institute Pty Ltd

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