A Healthy Heart

    We talk about our heart a lot. It may race with excitement or stop cold in fear. Our heart might get stuck in our throat or it may burst with pride. It swells, it throbs, it thumps, and skips a beat. It leaps with joy and it, of course, can break. For as much as we seem to know about how our heart works in regards to our emotions we seem conversely ignorant as to the role our heart plays in exercise. What exactly is the best heart rate for working out? How high is too high? Is working out at a low intensity pointless?  Let's get to the heart of the matter.
    First, why does your heart rate increase with exercise? Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups for a continuous period of time. To handle this workload, the muscles need more oxygen. This requires the heart to beat faster. Breathing becomes heavier and faster in order to supply more oxygen to the muscles.
    How do you check your heart rate? Have you tried to take your pulse accurately while walking or running or doing whatever you do to get the BPM's going? Pretty much all you can do is stop, find it, count for at least 30 seconds, multiply by 2 and Voila! By now your heart rate has dropped because this has taken so long and you have probably had to re-do it at least once because you lost count. Enter the heart rate monitor. Now highly accurate, easy to wear, and very affordable, it is silly not to have a heart rate monitor for aerobic exercise. You simply strap it on, push the magic button, and you have a continuous instant read of your heart rate.
    What is the right heart rate for you? There are a couple of components to determining your aerobic heart rate. Age and fitness level influence your heart rate range. There are formulas for determining heart rate zones but they are based on approximation. Although they can be helpful to some people, your best bet for having accurate numbers is to understand your VO2 Max. VO2 Max is the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and utilize oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual. The name is derived from volume per time, O2, oxygen, and max - maximum.
    How do you measure your VO2 Max? All you need is a Sub-Maximal VO2 test. Accurately measuring VO2 max involves a physical effort sufficient in duration and intensity to fully tax the aerobic energy system. Once you determine your VO2 Max you essentially have an idea of what your maximum heart rate is and can successfully train at various percentage rates to get the most from your workouts.
    Is there an ideal training zone? Actually, calling on all the training zones at different times is your most effective way to train. Each training zone uses more or less of different energy sources and accomplishes slightly different things for your fitness level. Here's how it breaks down...

Healthy Heart Zone: This zone is 50 to 60% of your maximum heart rate. It is an easy and comfortable zone in which to exercise. Working out in this zone is less intense and won't give you much cardio-respiratory training benefits, but studies have shown that it can help to decrease body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol. When training in this zone the body derives its energy from burning 10% carbohydrates, 5% protein, and 85% fat.

Fitness Zone: This zone ups to 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. You burn more calories per minute than in the healthy heart zone. The calories burned depend on the distance you cover and time spent exercising in this zone. Your energy source percentages remain about the same as in the healthy heart zone so you get the same fat burning benefits. You do however challenge and improve your cardio-respiratory health more effectively in this zone.

Aerobic Zone: Now you are heading into 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is the zone to aim for when training for endurance. It spurs your body to improve your circulatory system by building new blood cells and increasing your heart and lung capacity. You are now being fueled by approximately 50% fat, 50% carbohydrates, and less than 1% protein. With the increase of intensity, you burn more calories in the same amount of time, as you are covering more distance in the same time.

Anaerobic Zone: You are now at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. This intense level of exercise will improve the amount of oxygen you can consume - your VO2  Max. This exertion level takes you to the limit where your body begins to produce lactic acid. Generally this high training zone is implemented with interval training where it is cycled with shorter time frames at lower intensity zones. Your fuel source changes to approximately 85% carbohydrates, 15% fat, and less than 1% protein.
    Now you know. Our technology has brought us a long way from the days when you looked at a general chart and guess-timated what your training zone should  be. With a Sub-Maximal VO2 test and the  guidance available from fitness professionals you can now structure a time efficient, highly effective cardiovascular training program that can influence everything from weight loss to endurance in your given sport. By utilizing the different training zones you greatly reduce the chance of injury and over training, increase your success in achieving your fitness goals, and build a healthier heart. With this info you can now take better care of your heart so it can keep on leaping and skipping and *sigh*, even breaking, for years to come.
    Anneliza Itkor has been in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years. The Center for Health, Fitness, and Sports Performance, which offers a wide variety of fitness and massage services, is where she exercises her passion for total body wellness. Any fitness questions or comments are welcome and can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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