It’s not only during February (‘Go Red’ and Heart Health Month) that the benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise are always in the news. Study after study shows that exercise does everything from strengthening your heart to lowering your blood pressure to just plain making you feel happier. Yet the news on how long or how hard you should exercise always varies.
Working out at your optimal heart rate can help you get optimal cardiovascular benefit — yet exercising too hard can lead to injury, exhaustion or burnout. And not working hard enough can be ineffective and leave you seeing little to no results. So … should you work out at high intensity for 10 minutes, or moderately for 60 minutes?
The good news is that current technology makes it easy to monitor your exertion level and exercise at the optimal intensity for your body. Through heart rate monitoring, you can keep track of your intensity and take the guess work out of your training. Whether you want to improve your heart health (so important for women, not just men), drop a few pounds, train for an event or just feel better, monitoring your heart rate can help you achieve the results you want without wasting time.
Ways to monitor your heart rate
1. The tried and-true pulse check. Place the first two fingers of one hand lightly on the carotid artery on your neck or radial artery on your wrist and count the beats for 10 seconds. Multiply that number by six and you have your heart rate for one minute. While always available, not to mention free, this method can be sort of a pain as it disrupts the flow of your workout.
2. Wear a heart rate monitor. This device includes a chest strap and a wristwatch receiver. A sensor in the strap picks up your heart rate and relays the data to a display so you can see your heart rate at a glance. You can use cardio equipment with built-in heart rate monitor system (usually a chest strap that plugs into the console) — or get a portable one that has a wrist-watch display.
I wear my wrist-watch heart rate monitor 24/7 (as addictions go, I think this one is safe), and I add the chest strap only when I work out. It’s my motivator! It keeps me honest by allowing me to see how hard I am really working based on the number of beats per minute and how many calories I burn during my workout. It feels pretty good to look down and realize I just melted off 500 calories!
Polar, in my opinion, has the best variety and most reliable HRMs on the market, and they are actually fashionable. (By the way, you can throw the strap right in the washing machine.) Polar also offers a great warranty. Visit spriproducts.com or polarusa.com. Polar also offers great info on how to use a heart rate monitor and create your training zones.
Go get yourself a heart rate monitor. After all, your heart is the most important muscle you’ve got!