Aerobic exercise improves the ability of your heart and lungs to pump oxygen and other nutrients to the rest of your body. When you exercise to improve your cardiovascular fitness, your heart rate is a good indicator of how intensely you should train to continue seeing improvements. Once you know your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate, you can adjust your cardio sessions to get the most from your time exercising.
Target Heart Rate Zone
To improve your cardiovascular health, exercise for periods of 20 to 60 minutes at an intensity level that targets your aerobic system, usually between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. When you exercise outside this zone, you’re performing anaerobic exercise, useful for building strength rather than cardiovascular health.
Resting Heart Rate
To calculate your maximum heart rate and target heart rate zone, you’ll need to know your resting heart rate, or RHR, first. Your RHR is a measure of beats per minute, or BPM, when your heart is at rest and undergoing no physical exertion. Take your pulse for one minute first thing in the morning, preferably after you’ve woken up naturally. If you must get up before taking your pulse, lie back down for one to two minutes before measuring.
Maximum Heart Rate
Your maximum heart rate, or MHR, is an estimate of your heart rate if you were to physically exert yourself at 100 percent intensity. Your target heart rate zone for aerobic exercise is 60 to 80 percent of your MHR. To calculate your target heart rate zone, subtract your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. Multiply that number by .6 and by .8 to find your target heart rate range.
Checking Your Pulse
To ensure that you’re staying within your target heart rate zone, check your pulse periodically as you exercise. If you have access to a heart monitor, glance at it to make sure you’re in the zone. If you don’t have a monitor but want to quickly measure your heart rate, count your heart beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six.