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Staying within your target heart rate zone helps you get the most out of your workout while reducing your risk of overexertion. While the standard formula is the universally accepted method of calculating your target heart rate, in 2010 a new formula specifically for women was created that may be more accurate. The target heart rate is just one factor in determining exercise intensity, however. If you feel symptoms of overexertion while exercising, cease activity immediately and consult a medical professional. Also, never start a new exercise regimen without first consulting your doctor.

Standard Method

To calculate your target heart rate, first determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. If you are 50, your maximum heart rate would be 170. This number is the most times your heart should beat in a minute while exercising. To calculate your target heart rate, multiply your maximum heart rate by 50 percent to determine the low end of your target heart rate zone and by 85 percent to determine the high end of your target heart rate zone. A 50-year-old person’s target heart rate range while exercising would be 85 to 145 beats per minute.

Women’s Formula

The women’s target heart rate formula was developed using data involving females, whereas the standard calculation method was based upon male subjects. To calculate your maximum heart rate using the women’s formula, you take 88 percent of your age and subtract that number from 206. Once you have your maximum heart rate, calculate your target heart rate the same as the standard method. For example, a 50-year-old woman would register a maximum heart rate of 162 beats per minute. Her target heart rate zone, using 50 percent and 85 percent of the maximum heart rate as the low and high ranges, would be between 81 and 138 beats per minute.

Target Rate Benefits

Staying within your target heart rate means you’re maintaining a healthy intensity level and increasing your body’s ability to burn fat. If you are pushing yourself too hard, you’ll exceed the high end of your target heart rate range, and you should dial back the intensity of your workout to safer exertion levels. When you first begin a fitness regimen, aim for maintaining a heart rate in the lower end of your target range. As you build stamina, push yourself towards the higher end of your target zone, but do not push yourself beyond that, and always stop if you feel over-exerted.

Things to Consider

The target heart formulas are general guidelines only; it is not unusual for individuals to fall outside the average range. Certain medications can also impact your target heart rate. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor for a professional assessment of your target heart rate before exercising. Your perceived level of exertion and your breathing levels are other important markers when it comes to gauging exercise intensity. To keep track of your heart rate while exercising, consider wearing a heart rate monitor, or use an exercise machine with a built-in monitor.

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