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What is the target heart rate for weight loss

The Found Team

Here’s a common scene at the gym: on one treadmill, a woman is sprinting—sweat flying, legs pumping during her cardio exercise. On the treadmill beside her, a man is jogging sedately—maybe he’s even wearing his reading glasses and chuckling at the morning news during his cardio workout. 

They’re both exercising as part of a weight-loss plan, but they’re going about exercise intensity in very different ways. So who’s doing it right?

There are a lot of benefits of aerobic exercise. Experts agree that the key to exercising at the most beneficial level to support your weight loss program and fat burning journey is to find and maintain a target heart rate. However, between analyzing zones, charts, percentages, and formulas, things can get pretty confusing. 

That’s why this guide exists. Read on if you’ve ever wondered: What should my heart rate be while exercising?

Basics of heart rate

Heart rate is simply a measure of how many times your heart beats each minute. Your heartbeat (this is also known as your pulse) can be measured at one of the following locations:

  • Inner wrist

  • Crook of elbow

  • Side of the neck

  • Top of the foot

To get an accurate reading, move your index and middle fingers around the area until you feel your heartbeat beneath your skin. Then, using a clock or stopwatch for accuracy, count the number of beats you feel during 60 seconds. This number is your Resting Heart Rate.  

Alternatively, a wearable wrist fitness tracker or a chest strap monitor are easy and accurate methods for finding and logging resting heart rate.

Whatever method you choose to find your resting heart rate, it’s an important measure of overall health and fitness. Generally, this number will be between 60 beats per minute (bpm) and 100 bpm. Fit people tend to have a lower number, as do people who are prescribed certain medications such as beta-blockers.

Everyday impacts on heart rate 

A good time to take a resting heart rate measurement is early in the morning before any vigorous physical activity (and before that first cup of coffee). Routinely taking and logging readings of resting heart rate matters because several factors can play a part in the reading, affecting the overall picture of wellness:

  • Stress and emotions Exercise and mental health go hand and hand. Therefore, temporary stress or anxiety causes an increased heart rate. Think of your reaction upon seeing a snake or taking an important test. Your body releases adrenaline which can cause a spike in your heart rate. Similarly, long-term stress and anxiety can produce an elevated level of systematic hormones that impact your heart rate over a prolonged time.

  • Body position – Experts recommend taking your resting heart rate in the same position every time, whether it’s sitting, standing, or supine. While any of the three positions will give you important and accurate heart health information, it’s crucial not to mix the readings or to compare two readings from different positions because the change in position will cause an increase in heart rate for 20 to 30 seconds after physical activity.

  • Caffeine, alcohol, and food – The effects that stimulants such as sugar and caffeine have on the heart vary widely between people. Some people experience drastic impacts on their heart rate while others see little difference in their heart health. Similarly, depressants such as alcohol can impact heart rate in some people but not others.

  • Medication – Many medications can affect heart rate, either by elevating or depressing it. Reading all patient information leaflets and packaging that come with medication is the only way to know whether it could impact heart rate. Always discuss this with your medical provider.

  • Ambient temperature – Heat has a dramatic effect on heart rate. For every degree, the body’s internal temperature rises, the heart rate increases by about 10 beats per minute.

How is heart rate related to weight loss? 

Now that you have a grasp of what heart rate is, where to find it, and what impacts it, let’s take a look at how you can utilize that information as part of a fitness plan and learn how does regular exercise improve cardiovascular function.

During aerobic exercise, the following occurs:

  • Muscles use stored glycogen, fat, and oxygen to fuel their movement

  • Heart rate increases in order to supply needed blood and oxygen to the muscles

  • Breathing increases and deepens to provide oxygen

  • Ultimately, all of this leads to weight loss and burning as the body uses its stores of energy to fuel movement

Working your heart at a very high  intensity exercise level where it is unable to meet the demands of the body is called reaching your Maximum Heart Rate Zone. This is where your heart is pounding rapidly and you cannot catch your breath. Most people will not be able to exercise for an extended length of time in this zone and so it’s ineffective as a part of a weight loss strategy. 

However, experts agree that there is a zone for each person where their heart is beating rapidly enough to start the fat-burning and weight-loss process, yet not so rapidly as to cause immediate fatigue. 

Sort of like Goldilocks, you’re looking for a heart rate zone that is just right. Luckily, there is a foolproof strategy for finding your perfect weight loss zone.

Heart rate zones

There are differences in the terminology that experts use to talk about target heart rate zones, but don’t let this confuse you. 

While some fitness experts might refer to:

 

  • Lower intensity zone

  • Temperate zone

  • Aerobic zone

Others will refer to:

  • Inactive zone

  • Fitness zone

  • Performance zone

Some have even come up with 7 different levels of target heart rate zones that come with fancy names like VO₂, Max. 

But all of this is just semantics. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are really only two target heart rate zones that you should know for a solid weight loss plan.

  • Moderate intensity zone – Where your heart rate remains between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate.

  • Vigorous intensity zone – Where your heart rate remains between 77% and 93% of your maximum heart rate. 

Calculating heart rate zones

Rather than exercising until you are winded and then finding your maximum heart rate, you can simply estimate your maximum heart rate based on your age. To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220. 

220 - your age = your maximum beats per minute (bpm)

For example: For a 30-year-old woman, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 - 30 years = 190 beats per minute (bpm). 

Another example: For a 50-year-old man, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 - 50 years = 170 beats per minute (bpm). 

Now, let’s use our examples to calculate where their moderate and vigorous zones would be:

  • For our 30-year old woman:

  • Moderate intensity zone

  • 64% level: 190 x 0.64 = 109 bpm

  • 76% level: 190 x 0.76 = 129 bpm

  • Vigorous intensity zone

  • 77% level: 190 x .77 = 147 bpm

  • 93% level: 190 x .93 =  176 bpm

  • For our 50-year old man:

  • Moderate intensity zone

  • 64% level: 170 x 0.64 = 109 bpm

  • 76% level: 170 x 0.76 = 129 bpm

  • Vigorous intensity zone

  • 77% level: 170 x .77 = 130 bpm

  • 93% level: 170 x .93 = 158 bpm

ItAlthough your body will be burning energy during any kind of activity (even at rest), the harder you exercise, the more energy you use. By exercising in the lower end of the moderate zone, you will see the least impact of a workout, although you may be able to sustain your activity for a longer amount of time. On the other hand, by exercising in the top end of the vigorous zone, you will reap large energy-burning benefits, but you won’t be able to sustain the effort for very long.

Striving for a heart rate in the top end of the moderate zone to the lower end of the vigorous zone will ensure the most energy burn over the longest duration. Sometimes this zone is called the “fat burning zone,” although experts disagree about the accuracy of that title.

How to reach the target rate?

So you’ve found your resting heart rate, calculated your maximum heart rate, and even done the math to get you to your peak weight-loss heart rate zone. What now?

Now you have to find the exercise that not only gets you to your weight loss zone, but keeps you there, and keeps you coming back day after day. This is where things get personal.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time do I have to devote to exercise daily?

  • What do I enjoy?

  • Will I be able to sustain this activity over the short and long term?

  • What are all the associated expenses of this activity?

  • Do I like consistency or variety in my workout?

Once you’ve thought about the kind of exercises that could keep you in your target heart rate zone for the correct amount of time (the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of activity each week), start trying different workouts.

Found your target heart rate? Now there’s everything else, with Found

Remember our gym scene with the two people on the treadmills, one sprinting and one jogging? Now that you know a little bit about target heart rate, you can answer the question: Who’s doing it right?

The answer is both. It all depends on the target heart rate.

Here at Found Health, we pride ourselves on matching you with a fitness plan that suits your lifestyle. We aren't hung up on any single routine or style of exercise. We want to find a holistic wellness plan tailored specifically to you.

To learn more about our personalized wellness guide, try our quiz.

Sources: 

American Heart Association. All About Heart Rate (Pulse).

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/all-about-heart-rate-pulse

All about heart rate (pulse). www.heart.org. (n.d.). Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/all-about-heart-rate-pulse  

 University of Pennsylvania Medical Center Health Beat. How Does Stress Impact the Heart?

https://share.upmc.com/2014/11/how-does-stress-impact-heart/

Pubmed.gov. Acute Behavioral and Cardiac Effects of Alcohol and Caffeine.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11224225/

Cleveland Clinic. How Hot Weather Can Affect You When You Exercise.

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-hot-weather-can-affect-your-heart-when-you-exercise/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Target Heart Rate and Maximum Estimated Heart Rate. 

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm

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