How raising your heart rate leads to heart health

Graphic with picture of a heart and sneakers "How Raising Your Heart Rate Leads to Heart Health"February is National Heart Month, so to honor it, let’s take some time to talk about heart health and raising your own heart rate.  I hope to answer some questions, including questions like, “How much should my heart rate rise during exercise? What exercises raise heart rate the most?”

  • Raising heart rate

    How much your heart rate rises during exercise is dependent on several factors, like your resting heart rate, current medications you are taking, how hard you’re working, how long you’re working and the type of exercise you are doing. Generally, the higher the heart rate, the more aerobic and cardiovascular benefit there is to the exercise, versus something like strength building that can sometimes have a lower heart rate during the workout.  An easy way to estimate one’s maximal heart rate is 220 – your current age.  A 20-year-old would have an estimated heart rate max of 200 bpm, while a 60-year-old would be at 160 bpm.  This estimation of the max heart rate can give us a lot more insight in terms of predictions and goals for workout intensity and how high your heart rate should get during exercise.  For the 20 or the 60-year-old, neither wants to be working at maximal heart rates very often or very long.  When participating in light exercises, your heart rate should increase to be within a range of 57-63% of that estimated heart rate maximum (114-126 bpm for our 20-year-old and 91-101 bpm for our 60-year-old).  For moderate-intensity exercise, 67-76% of the estimated heart rate maximum (134-152 bpm for the 20-year-old, and 107-122 bpm for our 60-year-old) would be normal.  When working out in the vigorous-intensity range, 77-95% of their estimated heart rate maximum (154-190 bpm, and 123-152 bpm) would be expected.  The more we know about you, the more we can manipulate these calculations to incorporate resting heart rate or perceived levels of exertion and further tailor each exercise to you.  Remember, these are general guides that work for a large percent of the population.  You could do the math for yourself or use general heart rate guidelines for your age, which are often found on specific exercise machines or charts in gym settings.

  • What raises your heart rate the most

    There is not a universal form of exercise that will raise each heart rate to their maximum rates. For two different people running at the same speed, grade and distance for a 30-minute run, one might achieve a heart rate high of 150 bpm during the workout, and the other a heart rate high of 135 bpm.  Some of this relates back to age, health history, and many other factors that go into our physical health.  Exercises that generally raise heart rates, and more so compared to other forms of exercise, are cardio exercises like walking, jogging, running, biking, swimming, etc.  If you prefer to do more strength-based moves, do them in a circuit style work out and adjust the length of time on a single exercise and rest periods so you can get a good cardio work out.

When looking for heart-healthy exercises, do things that you enjoy and will lead you to future success.  A 30-minute walk five times a week, going for runs or bike rides, strength training, Zumba and yoga workouts are all great ways to raise your heart rate.  These are all great forms of exercise and can be manipulated in many ways to improve different components of fitness, all of which positively contribute to an enhanced quality of life and health outcomes.

Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see the Adult Fitness Program website.