Measuring your heart rate (beats per minute) can tell you how hard your heart is working during an activity. You can check your heart rate by lightly pressing the tips of your first 2 fingers on the inside of your wrist to take your pulse. Count your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 4. To time the 15 seconds, use the timer function on your smartphone or a watch or clock with a second hand. If you have a smart phone or smart watch, this may be able to measure your heart rate as well.
Most people will get the greatest benefit and lower their risks if they keep their heart rate between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate when exercising. To figure out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age (in years) from 220. This number is your maximum heart rate. To figure out your target heart rate range, multiply that number by 0.50 and 0.85.
For example, if you are 40 years of age, subtract 40 from 220 to get your maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (220 – 40 = 180). Then, multiply 180 by 0.50 and 0.85 to get your target heart rate range of 90 to 153 beats per minute (180 x 0.50 = 90 and 180 x 0.85 = 153). When you first start an exercise program, aim for the lower end of your target heart rate range. As your exercise program progresses, you can gradually build up to a higher target heart rate.
If you are taking medicine to treat high blood pressure, you have a heart condition, or you are pregnant, talk to your family doctor to find out what your target heart rate should be.
Things to consider
To avoid injuring yourself during exercise, don’t try to do too much too soon. Start with an activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a day, several times a day. Slowly increase the amount of time and the intensity of the activity. For example, increase your walking time and speed over several weeks.
Trying to push yourself too hard in the beginning could cause muscle strain or sprain. When this happens, you’ll have to wait for the injury to heal before continuing your exercise program. This can really sidetrack your health goals.
When to see a doctor
Pay attention to your body. Stop exercising if you feel very out of breath, dizzy, faint, nauseous, or if you feel pain. Talk with your family doctor if you have questions or think you have injured yourself seriously.
Questions to ask your doctor
Am I healthy enough to begin an exercise program?
Are there any exercises I should avoid?
Do I have any health condition that would affect my ability to exercise?
Am I taking a medicine that would interfere with exercise?
How can I build an exercise plan into my lifestyle?