Know your target heart rate for an effective cardio workout and weight loss

How can you be sure your cardiovascular workout is effective? Know your target heart rate and try to maintain your target heart rate during your workouts. It's your prescription for a healthy heart fitness plan.

It's well known that aerobic exercise can help prevent and even potentially reverse heart disease. In fact, exercise can actually improve the mechanics of the heart muscle and make it stronger. Aerobic exercise can also help control depression, diabetes, obesity and weight control and cognitive function. It’s also well known that a lifestyle without any form of regular aerobic exercise can result in a thicker, noncompliant heart that can't pump blood as efficiently.

"People who are less active and less physically fit have a 30-50 percent greater chance of high blood pressure than their more active peers," states cardiologist Thomas C. Kim, MD. "And high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to a higher risk of heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart artery blockage disease, also known as coronary heart disease."

The key is to eat healthy, exercise often and stay within a safe, but effective target heart range. Experts warn that if you push yourself too hard, you may do your body more harm than good, especially if you have a history of heart disease. However, if you don't push yourself hard enough, you won't receive the full benefit of a good cardiovascular workout.

Know your zone
You can calculate your maximum target heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your target zone should be 60 to 85 percent of that figure. Here's an example:

Age: 45
Maximum Heart Rate: 175 (220 – 45 = 175)
Target Heart Rate: 105 to 149

It’s easy to check your heart rate while working out. The most obvious is to take your pulse or to wear a heart monitor. You can also take the "talk test." If you can't carry on a conversation, you are probably working too hard.

With regular aerobic exercise, your heart gets stronger and pumps more blood with each heartbeat (the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each heartbeat is called stroke volume). More stroke volume means the heart doesn't have to pump as fast to meet the demands of exercise, and fewer beats means greater efficiency. The heart may work better and last longer if it can pump larger stroke volumes with each cycle.

Commit to moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week for approximately 30 minutes (or for at least 10 minutes several times during the day). "A comfortable change in your breathing without feeling breathless is ideal, especially for heart patients," explains Dr. Kim. And remember, if you are trying to lose weight, you also have to change your diet. Exercise alone won't take off the pounds.

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