Fitmodo: The Benefits Of Heart Rate Monitors

As you exercise harder, your heart rate increases. The simplicity of this makes it easy to monitor your heart rate to get the most out of your workout — and when you're pushing it too far. Here's a look at how a heart rate monitor can help you stay motivated and in the zone.

Welcome back to Fitmodo powered by the new Fitbit Charge HR activity wristband — now with continuous heart rate tracking — and the Fitbit Surge fitness super watch. Heart rate, calories, steps and sport tracking with long battery life, call and text notifications, auto sleep monitoring and more.

Why Heart Rate Matters

Having a monitor on hand allows you to track your resting heart rate. Regularly measuring your resting heart rate can help you track your overall fitness over time — plus spot “off days” where you should take it easy and let your body recover. The best time to check your resting heart rate is as soon as you’ve woken up (provided your alarm isn’t Deadmau5).

Your heart rate can be effected by a number of factors, including caffeine, stress and smoking. Knowing your average resting heart rate helps you know when you're being pushed by your workout, or your lifestyle.

The Gadgets

Previously, heart rate trackers meant wearing a band around your chest. Now new wearables let you do so on your wrist, with comparatively good accuracy.

Devices like the FitBit Charge HR fitness tracker or Surge smartwatch can also show you a continuous automatic feed of your heart rate. That’s great to make sure you stay in the zone (maintaining an optimuim heart rate for your particular training or fat burn goal), compared to using, say — your Samsung Galaxy S5 — to check your heart rate after an exercise.

You want to measure your effort in real time. And you want to it to be accurate. A fitness tracker can be a good median between a peripheral feature on a phone and a dedicated heart rate monitor chest strap.

Finding Your Target Heart Rate

It’s important to know your target heart rate (THR) — or ‘zone’ — for effective exercise and or fat burning, and to not overload your heart muscles.

Australian health insurer, BUPA, says “For most people, a safe exercise target heart rate is between 50 – 75% of your maximum heart rate (maxHR), expressed in beats per minute (bpm). Your maximum heart rate is estimated by deducting your age from the number 220.”

So for me, that formula works out to be: 220 - 32 = 188(maxHR). Then 188 x 50-75% = 94-141bpm(THR)

If you’re tracking your heart rate manually, just take that number and divide by two so you only have to count your heart rate over 30 seconds. Obviously that’s harder to do while you’re in the middle of working out — another benefit of heart rate fitness trackers.

Worth noting: Betterhealth.vic.gov.au suggests that target heart rates for fitness and health gains are between 40 and 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate (maxHR). That government site also has a target heart rate chart with five year age blocks to help you determine intensity. For instance, for me it suggests that I aim for a target heart rate (THR) of: 95-133bpm.

Sport-Specific Benefits

There are a number of specific benefits to paying attention to your heart rate

  • It will help you find activities that get you in the right zone
  • If you’re a running fan, heart rate monitoring allows you to plan easy, recovery runs and tempo runs. It lowers your risk of injury from running too fast and too hard. (Aim for 60 to 70 % of your maximum heart rate for warm ups).
  • Any elevation of the heart rate has benefits — a 10 minute blast will do more than nothing — and the American Heart Association recommends maintaining your target heart rate for 30 minutes when working out. Ideally, you want to combine "rest" periods of 60 - 65% maxHR with 70 - 90% maxHR workout intervals –- which is the basic principle of HIIT (high intensity interval training).
  • More: Why Intensity Is The Key To Health And Fitness

    With all this in mind, you can see how heart rate monitors can also be effective in the gym. Sure, have a break, take a sip of water, catch your breath, let your heart rate go down. But don’t sit around staring at the TV so long that your heart rate leaves its optimum zone. Get back to work! Fitness trackers with heart rate monitors help you know when to give yourself a break, and when to give yourself a kick up the butt.

    Important: As always, if you're overweight, over 40, haven't exercised for a while or even the slightest bit unsure — make sure to check in with your doctor before kicking off your new exercise regime.

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