By using our heart rate response, rather than a predetermined workout plan, we can adapt our exercise session to internal and external factors, such as fatigue, temperature, wind conditions, etc. If your resting heart rate is higher than 70 beats per minute, train between 125 and 135 beats per minute if you are in your 30s...

For many years, fitness professionals have been teaching exercisers to adjust their aerobic activity level based on heart rate response. Fortunately, our hearts function as internal computers that provide information regarding our exercise effort.


By using our heart rate response, rather than a predetermined workout plan, we can adapt our exercise session to internal and external factors, such as fatigue, temperature, wind conditions, etc.


The basic premise of heart rate training is to exercise at an intensity high enough to promote health and fitness benefits and low enough to avoid unnecessary stress and overtraining.


The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that endurance exercise should be performed between 60 and 90 percent of maximum heart rate. The lower end of this range (60 to 70 percent of maximum) is for people with low levels of aerobic fitness, and the higher end of this range (80 to 90 percent of maximum heart rate) is for people with high levels of aerobic fitness. Therefore, the mid-range of 70 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate is recommended for exercisers with average levels of aerobic fitness.


While we have long applied these guidelines to our research classes and exercise participants, recent studies on resting heart rate and health suggest that associated modifications to one’s heart rate training zone may be beneficial.


Generally speaking, a lower resting heart indicates a stronger heart and a reduced risk of coronary problems. Taking this information into consideration, I recently teamed with Bottom Line Women’s Health publication to develop target heart rate ranges for women and resting heart rates when performing standard forms of endurance exercise (e.g., walking, jogging, cycling, stepping, rowing elliptical training, etc.). These guidelines should be equally applicable to men.


To apply this information to your aerobic activity program, you must know your resting heart rate. When you wake up in the morning, place your fingers on your radial artery at your wrist and count every pulse, or heartbeat for 60 seconds.


Although there are many factors that influence resting heart rate, a range of 65 to 70 beats per minute may be considered average. Resting heart rates slower than 65 beats per minute may indicate stronger heart blood pumping capacity and resting heart rates faster than 70 beats per minute may indicate weaker heart blood pumping capacity.


Based on your resting heart rate, I recommend the following training heart rate ranges for people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s when performing standard endurance exercise:


If your resting heart rate is higher than 70 beats per minute, train between:


125 and 135 beats per minute if you are in your 30s


115 and 125 beats per minute if you are in your 40s


105 and 115 beats per minute if you are in your 50s


95 and 105 beats per minute if you are in your 60s


85 and 95 beats per minute if you are in your 70s


If your resting heart rate is between 65 and 70 beats per minute, train between:


135 and 145 beats per minute if you are in your 30s


125 and135 beats per minute if you are in your 40s


115 and 125 beats per minute if you are in your 50s


105 and 115 beats per minute if you are in your 60s


95 and 105 beats per minute if you are in your 70s


If your resting heart rate is lower than 65 beats per minute, train between:


145 and 155 beats per minute if you are in your 30s


135 and 145 beats per minute if you are in your 40s


125 and 135 beats per minute if you are in your 50s


115 and 125 beats per minute if you are in your 60s


105 and 115 beats per minute if you are in your 70s


Basing your endurance exercise heart rate ranges on your resting heart rate should render the training guidelines more relevant for your present level of aerobic fitness.


As you become better conditioned, you should see a corresponding reduction in your resting heart rate because your heart has improved its blood pumping ability. When your resting heart rate moves into a lower range, increase your workout intensity accordingly as indicated by the training guidelines.


Finally, check with your doctor for personal modifications based on your medical history.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College in Massachusetts and consults for the South Shore YMCA.