In cardio in particular, you see people exercising regularly with heart rate monitors. In the gym , many devices even have a built-in heart rate sensor. And indeed: a good heartbeat during exercise is a factor to be reckoned with.
But what is the best heart rate during exercise? As high as possible? Somewhere in that famous ‘ fat burning zone ‘? Or neither of them? We explain it all to you in today’s blog!
How do you measure your heart rate?
First a practical thing: how do you actually measure your heart rate? You do not need a heart rate monitor for this at home. A clock with a second hand is enough. Press your finger against the artery in your wrist and count the number of strokes for one minute. Voilà, you have your heart rate per minute.
Do you not feel like or have time to sit down counting a minute? You can also count 30 or 15 seconds and multiply the result by two or four respectively. A small deviation may creep in that way, but that is not a problem for most purposes.
If you are running, it is of course difficult to count your heartbeats in the meantime. If you want to know your heart rate during exercise, then a heart rate monitor is sometimes a useful tool.
What is a healthy resting heart rate?
There is no such thing as the healthy heartbeat, both during rest and during exercise. The speed with which your heart beats is influenced by many different factors. Age is the most important, but your gender also plays a nice role. In addition, your heart rate accelerates if you are stressed for a long time or maintain an unhealthy lifestyle.
In adults, the resting heart rate is on average between 60 and 80 beats per minute. For women, the heart beats a little faster than for men: 76 versus 68 beats per minute, respectively. If you sleep, the heart rate drops considerably, to about 50 beats per minute.
Determine the maximum heart rate
When you exercise – or even only exercise moderately intensively – your heart rate accelerates. Your muscles need more oxygen, so your heart has to pump more blood through your body. The more intensive the activity, the faster your heart beats.
There is, however, a maximum in the frequency of your heartbeat. That upper limit drops as you get older , simply because your heart will be beating a little slower and less able to cope. It is not really possible to train against that fall (and that is not necessary for anything).
You can calculate your maximum heart rate approximately by doing 208 – (your age x 0.7). For example, if you are 40, your maximum heart rate is around 180. This is an estimate, and the actual number of course differs per person. However, as a rule of thumb for exercising, this is a great guideline.
A good heartbeat during exercise
The best heart rate during exercise is lower than the maximum heart rate! You cannot maintain that maximum for a long time, and it is unhealthy exhausting to try. Instead, it is best to keep your heart rate between 60 and 80% of the maximum heart rate.
Top athletes sometimes train above that ratio, up to around 90%. However, as an amateur athlete it is not advisable to do that without professional guidance. An intensity at which your heart rate rises to 80% is enough to make progress and improve your fitness . The following applies within this range: the higher the heart rate, the more calories you burn.
The fat burning zone
Now you sometimes hear the advice not to train at a high heart rate like 80%. Instead, you should stay at a moderate speed of around 60%. In this so-called ‘fat burning zone’ you would – as the name implies – burn more fat than at higher intensity.
That is as follows. Your body never gets all the energy it needs from body fat: some also come from carbohydrates , stored in your muscles as glycogen . In the ‘fat burning zone’ you use relatively more fat and less carbohydrates compared to training at a higher heart rate.
Does this mean that you have to moderate the intensity to get slimmer? Well – no, there’s a snag. If you train more intensively, you burn more calories in total. Relatively, a smaller part of it is fat – but in absolute amounts you still burn more grams of fat if you train at high heart rate.
Heartbeat and afterburn effect
In addition, a second advantage of a high heart rate is the afterburn effect. In short: if you exercise intensively, it causes minor damage to your body. To restore that, burn a little more calories than usual for a few hours after a cardio workout . The higher your heart rate during exercise, the more that afterburn effect increases. In the long term, that can make a big difference.
Moreover, strength training provides a stronger afterburn effect than cardio, despite a lower heart rate during the training itself. That has to do with muscle damage and the repair thereof. That is one of the reasons why strength training is recommended to lose weight.
Note: not too long too intensive!
In short: when it comes to heart rate during exercise, intensive is often the best option. You must of course be careful not to overdo it. We mentioned above that it is better not to sit above 80% of your maximum heart rate. That is simply not healthy for your heart in the long term.
In addition, you should not maintain a high heart rate for too long. If you train very intensively for a very long time, the stress hormone cortisol is released, which actually ensures that you retain more fat. So limit strength training and intensive cardio training to a maximum of one hour. Calm cardio with a low heartbeat can possibly be longer.