How Do I Know If I’m Exercising Enough to Help My Heart?

The short answer from a cardiologist
Elderly woman checking her heart rate while taking a break during her walk.

Q: I want to start exercising by walking or using a treadmill. What is the best way to make sure that I am doing enough exercise to achieve cardiovascular benefit?

A: The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly to get the maximum benefit.

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A simple way to determine whether your exercise intensity is meeting these goals is to assess your level of perceived exertion. During moderate activity, you should notice an increase in breathing rate, but not become out of breath. You should experience mild-to-moderate sweating and be able to carry on a conversation but not be able to sing. If you cannot say more than a few words without stopping for a breath, you are engaging in vigorous activity.

Intensity can also be gauged by measuring your HR while exercising. One simple way is to subtract your age from 220. Or (for a bit more accuracy), multiply your age by 0.67, and then subtract from 207. Moderate intensity is normally 50 to 70% of maximum effort, while vigorous intensity ranges from 70 to 85%. There is little reason to exceed 85%.

If you are age 55 with a maximal projected HR of 170 BPM and resting HR of 70 BPM, your HR range for moderate intensity activity is 120 to 140 BPM.

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Always check with your doctor before ini­tiating an exercise program. If you’re just beginning to exercise, start at the lower range of 50% and work up gradually. Always stop and seek medical attention if unusual symptoms develop.

Certain medications and medical conditions can change the maximal HR achievable and be a reason for lower intensity goals. In these cases, an exer­cise stress test would give you a more precise measurement of your maximal projected HR and help determine the safest level of exercise for you to perform.

― Cardiologist Michael Rocco, MD

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This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.

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