Target Heart Rate

The difficulty in determining the intensity of exercise lies in the fact that everyone is different. What makes one person huff and puff will barely break a sweat on someone else. To adequately measure intensity, the target heart rate is used.

Measuring target heart rate first requires knowing your average maximum heart rate, which is determined by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 50–85 percent of your maximum. It is a wide range. When you begin an exercise program, your target is the lower end of the range, and as you become more physically fit, you aim higher.

Begin by measuring your pulse. To do this, put two fingers, preferably your second and third fingers, on your carotid or radial artery. The carotid artery is alongside your wind pipe, and your radial artery can be found in the groove of your inner wrist, below your thumb. Move your fingers around until you feel the pulse.

Using a timepiece with a second hand or a stop watch, count the pulse beats for ten seconds. Multiply by six for your beats per minute (bpm). (Alternatively, you can count for six seconds and multiply by ten.)

Age      Target Heart Rate (50–85%)      Average Maximum Heart Rate (100%)
20 100–179 bpm 200 bpm
30 89–162 bpm 190 bpm
40 90–153 bpm 180 bpm
50 85–145 bpm 170 bpm
60 80–136 bpm 160 bpm
70 75–128 bpm 150 bpm


Some high-blood-pressure medications can lower your maximum heart rate. Check with your doctor to determine if your medication does this, and to find your new target heart rate.

It is possible to estimate intensity without the heart rate. It’s called the chat test, and it is useful if your activity doesn’t allow you to take your pulse.

If you can chat easily during your activity, your intensity is low. If you can speak, but are breathing heavily, your intensity is moderate. If you can’t talk at all, your intensity is high.

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