Is measuring your heart rate important when exercising?

Tips for understanding your heart rate

Exercise Physiologist, Wellness Coach and Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner, Bell Silverthorne talks about measuring your heart rate when exercising and how to understand what it means.

If you’re just getting back into exercise, or doing new exercise which is different to your usual routine, measuring your heart rate can be a handy indicator of how hard you’re working. If you’re working hard, your heart rate will be high. The great thing about keeping an eye on your heart rate is that it is an objective measurement.


Measuring your heart rate is not the gold standard of measuring exercise intensity. But unless you have access to a fitness lab to be able to measure your VO2 capacity, it’s much easier to measure, particularly now in the era of fitness wearables.


Your maximum heart rate is:

HR Max = 208 – (0.7 x age)


So if you are 40, your HR Max is 180 beats per minute. This is your MAX, which means you shouldn’t be hovering at this intensity continually when exercising. It is just a handy number to know. Let’s say you are 40, and while you are pumping iron/cycling/speed walking up a steep hill. Your fitness watch is telling you your heart rate is 176, yes, it is validating that you are indeed working very hard!


What I particularly like about keeping an eye on your heart rate is that it really negates any critical self-talk that might creep in. If you are that person that says, “I’m going to do run ten minutes without stopping.” But you get four minutes in and realise that ten minutes is basically an eternity away at the same pace. By having a quick look at your heart rate can give you a quick indication of the intensity you are exercising at, and you can adjust your goal accordingly.


So what is the best heart rate should you aim for?

This is a trick question, as it always comes back to the best type of exercise is the one that you actually do! So rather than getting really hung up about your heart rate, if you can, try and incorporate some huff and puff exercise into your weekly routine, but even just being slightly out of breath when exercising is a high enough intensity to see some health benefits.


You don’t need a fancy fitness watch which measures your heart rate to experience the wonderful benefits of exercise.


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Bell Silverthorne is an exercise physiologist, wellness coach and lifestyle medicine practitioner with a passion for every day Australians to be that little bit healthier. Whether it’s sleeping better, exercising more, eating more fruit and veggies each day or doing your best to maintain a good headspace. Bell is a massive advocate of lifestyle medicine – harnessing your everyday lifestyle habits to help prevent, manage or even reverse chronic disease.