Published 12:00 am Monday, January 28, 2008

Q. I do cardio three times a week. How do I know that I am working hard enough?
A. Too many people have begun exercising regularly (which is great) but are working out at too low an intensity to really see the benefits.
I like to call it a maintenance program.
To challenge your heart and lungs you actually have to work your heart and lungs. By keeping your heart rate below your target heart rate (I’ll get into that in a minute), you really won’t see the cardiovascular workout benefits that you would if you were working within your target heart rate.
What is target heart rate (THR)?
It kind of speaks for itself รณ it is the heart rate zone you are trying to reach to get the maximum benefits for your age and fitness level. There is a formula, so get out your calculator or piece of paper.
Take 220 and deduct your age, which gives you your maximum heart rate (MHR). You don’t want to exercise go above your MHR (unless you are chased by a bear!).
Example: 220-58 (age) equals 162 MHR. Target heart rate falls between 55/60 percent-90 percent of your MHR. Aim for 55 percent if you have never exercised before and have some health challenges (obesity, heart problems, sometimes even pregnancy).
So let’s find out the THR for this 58-year-old with no health problems.
Take 162 and multiply this number by .60, which yields 97.2 (round it down to 97).
Now take 162 and multiply this by .90 which is 145.8 (round up to 146). Mind you, 80 and up is a THR for someone who is in excellent shape and exercises regularly.
The THR for this 58-year-old is between 97 and 146 heart beats per minute (BPM). If this 58-year-old is below 97 BPM, he/she is not working hard enough. Above 146 BPM he/she is working too hard.
People ask me what a “good” percentage is for them. That really is up to the individual.
I like to combine your THR with perceived exertion (how you feel when you exercise). You don’t have to take your heart rate to know if you are working hard. Barely keeping up with your breath is working too hard. Being able to hold a full conversation is working too little.
Especially is you are on medication, you have to follow your perceived exertion, as lots of medications lower the heart rate. Of course you want to check with your doctor to make sure a new exercise program is good for you. I have never met a doctor who says it isn’t, but you might have some important limitations.
So find your target heart rate, be in tune with your body by feeling how hard you are working and enjoy yourself!
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Ester Hoeben is associate executive director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA. Contact her with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or ehoeben@rowan ymca.com.