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What is the optimal heart rate target when exercising?

Learn how you can improve your health in a heartbeat

A smiling man measures his heart rate on his smart watch after a run
A smiling man measures his heart rate on his smart watch after a run

Gone are the days of calculating your heart rate by placing fingers on your wrist or neck to find your pulse before counting away.
Thanks to technology, you can now check it in a number of different ways – with your watch, fitness tracker or even your smartphone.

Understanding what our fitness trackers are telling us can be a little confusing; so, what do you need to know to ensure you’re using the technology to your advantage?

We’ve compiled some of the most commonly asked questions to help you improve your health in a heartbeat.

How can you calculate your maximum heart rate for peak performance?

Your maximum heart rate is what your heart can handle during physical activity. To reap the benefits from your exercise (including weight loss), you need to reach 55-70% of your maximum heart rate during moderate exercise or 70-85% during vigorous exercise.
Get out your calculators, folks. To work out your max heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220.

Let’s take 50-year-old Jenny for example. Jenny’s maximum heart rate is 170 (220 minus 50). For the best results, Jenny needs to be working out at around 102 beats per minute (170 x 60%) during moderate exercise or if she’s doing something more intensive, 136 beats per minute (170 x 80%).

How often should you be working out at a moderate or vigorous intensity?

The Australian Department of Health’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week (think walking or light bike riding), or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week (like running, an aerobic gym class or personal training – anything where you come home with sweaty clothing afterwards). Here are a few simple tips for making physical activity part of your every day.

Credit: nib health insurance

What is a normal resting heart rate?

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in a one-minute timeframe while you’re relaxed.
Generally speaking, a normal average adult resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If you have a lower heart rate, that means your heart is working more efficiently. Athletes, for example, can have a resting heart rate of around 40 beats per minute.

An unusually high or low heart rate can indicate an underlying problem, so if you’re outside the normal range it’s best to see a health professional.

What factors can influence our heart rate?

  • Age: Your heart rate declines as you get older. It’s all part of the ageing process, with our hearts getting more rigid like the rest of our bodies and not able to do the same level of exercise or pump out blood at the same rate.

  • Emotions: When we’re frightened, excited or anxious our heart rate quickens. Why? It’s fight or flight with our body responding to what it perceives as a life-threatening situation. Adrenaline is released and your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your muscles and brain, preparing you to either fight or make a run for it.

  • Stimulants: Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which can then cause palpitations, nervousness and dizziness. Chocolate contains a nervous system stimulant too; and while we’re at it, excessive sugar will also make your heart race. This isn’t because you’re excited about the bowl of ice-cream in front of you, your blood sugar has spiked which interferes with proper vessel function.

It can be easy to get caught up in hitting your optimal heart rate target. And, while working out in the target zone is a great way to know if you’re on track, it’s more important to find a sport or physical activity that you love. It’ll make exercise feel less like a chore and you’ll likely hit your target rate without even thinking about it.

Your heart is one of your most vital organs, so if you aren’t sure that you’re covered for heart-related procedures or surgery, you can check out your policy in member account or call us on 13 16 42 for a cover review.

If you have any concerns about your heart health, it’s best to visit your local GP for personalised advice.