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What You Should Know About Target Heart Rate Zones to Achieve Your Wellness Goals

Posted February 06, 2023 by Roger Chaffee, MD

Woman wearing gray checking her heart rate

Whether you’re a beginner trying to improve your endurance to lose weight or an avid trainer trying to improve your cardiovascular fitness, exercising in your targeted heart rate zone is the best way to ensure your workout is both safe and effective.

Your heart rate (HR) is measured by the number of times your heart beats in one minute. As you increase the intensity of your workout, the demands on your heart increase. The higher your HR, the more calories you burn.

Your HR can be divided into 5 target HR zones, which are based on a percentage of your maximum HR and indicate the intensity of your workout.

You will gain different fitness benefits by exercising in different HR zones. If you exercise too close to your maximum HR, your heart and body will struggle to keep up. But, if you exercise too little, you won’t elevate your HR enough to ensure your effort matches your goal.

As you try to move more and sit less, learn more about targeted HR zones to maximize your workout, improve heart health and aerobic capacity. Let’s make this the time to huff and puff our way into wellness to live longer, healthier lives.

5 target heart rate zones

To figure out your target HR zones, you must first know your maximum HR. Your maximum HR is the fastest your heart can beat. Your maximum HR on average is 220 minus your age. For example, if you’re 40 years old, your maximum HR is 180.

Once you know your maximum HR, you can find your target HR to gear your workout to the most appropriate intensity for you.

The five target HR zones are:

  • Zone 1: 50 to 59 percent of Max HR: Very light activity, including walking at a leisurely pace or stretching. You can easily carry on a conversation while exercising.
  • Zone 2: 60 – 69 percent of Max HR: Light activity, such as walking at a brisker pace or jogging slowly. You can still talk while exercising, but your heart rate has increased slightly and you may be breathing heavier than usual. In this zone, it won’t give you the best cardiovascular training, but you will still burn calories.
  • Zone 3: 70 – 79 percent of Max HR: Moderate activity, such as speed walking, running, aerobics or riding a bike on flat ground. Talking while exercising becomes more difficult, and you can only speak in short sentences. This level puts you in the aerobic zone and starts to improve your heart and lung endurance. You will burn more calories per minute than in zone 2.
  • Zone 4: 80 – 89 percent of Max HR: High-intensity activity, such as sprints, jumping jacks, cycling on hills and stair climbing. This exercise can’t be sustained for long periods of time. You’re breathing much harder and can only speak in short phrases. This zone improves speed, endurance and exercise performance, while increasing heart and lung capacity. You will burn more calories per minute than zone 3.
  • Zone 5: 90 – 100 of Max HR: Maximum effort, such as sprinting as fast as you can. You’re going all out and can’t speak while doing so, and the activity should only be a short burst for interval training. In fact, staying in this zone too long can be unsafe. You will burn the most calories per minute in this zone.

If you’re just starting an exercise routine, aim for a lower range of your target HR, such as zone 1. As you build stamina, push yourself into the next zone until you’re comfortable at the aerobic level or zone 3. The key is elevating your HR into the correct target HR zone to ensure your effort matches your goals.

Monitor your heart rate during exercise

As you exercise, periodically check your HR to make sure you’re in the target zone.

To measure your HR, find your pulse by placing two fingers on the side of your neck or on the underside of your forearm. Then, count the number of beats in one minute, or the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply it by 2.

It’s important to note if you’re taking heart medications that affect your HR, you could have a lower maximum HR and target zone. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about what your HR should be.

Tracking your HR will help you achieve your fitness goals. But, if the calculations become a stumbling block, you can always rely on the talk test. If you can talk and carry on a conversation while exercising, then you’re in the right target HR zone. Best of luck on your journey to wellness.

Roger B Chaffee, MD

Roger B Chaffee, MD

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