Heart rate is a good measure of how far a person is pushing themselves during exercise. A low heart rate during exercise may mean that a person could increase the intensity of that activity, while a heart rate that is too high can be dangerous.
By keeping track of their heart rate during exercise, people may be able to maximize their fitness or weight loss goals.
This article provides formulas to help people work out their ideal heart rate while running. We also look at safe heart rate limits and the best ways to monitor heart rate during exercise.
Is there an ideal heart rate for running?
A person’s ideal heart rate when running can depend on age, overall fitness, and current activity levels.
Running and other cardiovascular exercises can increase a person’s heart rate.
Heart rate is a good measure of the amount of effort a person is exerting during exercise, with a higher heart rate indicating a higher level of physical activity.
Whether training for an event, getting fit, or increasing stamina, people can improve their running performance by paying attention to their heart rate zones. Keeping within target zones will ensure that a person is pushing themselves.
However, people should be careful not to push too hard. If heart rate becomes too high, it can be dangerous.
A person’s ideal heart rate during running and other forms of exercise depends on their:
- current activity levels
- overall fitness
- medical conditions
Target heart rate zones by age
The American Heart Association (AHA) advise that people aim to reach between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate during exercise.
According to their calculations, maximum heart rate is around 220 beats per minute (bpm) minus the person’s age. Therefore, a 20-year-old’s maximum heart rate would be around 200 bpm (220 minus 20 = 200 bpm).
On average, the AHA recommend the following target heart rates during exercise:
When beginning to exercise, a person should aim for the lower end of the target heart rate range (50% of their maximum heart rate) and gradually build this up over time (toward the 85% mark).
For comparison, a normal resting heart rate is 60–100 bpm. In some circumstances, a lower resting heart rate is one measure of fitness. For top athletes, for example, it can be as low as 40 bpm.
This is because their muscles are in better condition, and because their hearts do not need to work as hard to pump blood around the body.
Review studies have linked a low resting heart rate with longer life and fewer physical health issues.
Other ways to calculate maximum heart rate
The best and most accurate way for a person to calculate their individual maximum running heart rate is by wearing a chest monitor while doing a treadmill test.
Although many people use the target zones listed above, some prefer to use different calculations that might be more accurate. These include Tanaka’s formula, which may be better for males, and Gulati’s formula, which may be better for females.
Tanaka’s and Gulati’s formulas allow a person to calculate their maximum heart rate. They should then train within 50–85% of this maximum.
To calculate a maximum heart rate, use the following formula:
208 minus (age x 0.7) = maximum heart rate
A person can multiply their age by 0.7 then subtract that number from 208. For a person who is 20, for example, the equation would be: 208 minus (20 x 0.7) = a maximum heart rate of 194 bpm.
Then, to calculate the target upper and lower heart rates, a person can work out 50% of the maximum (50% of 194 is 97) and 85% of the maximum (85% of 194 is 164.9). This means that the target heart rate for a 20-year-old is approximately 97–165 bpm.
To calculate a maximum heart rate, use the following formula:
206 minus (age x 0.88) = maximum heart rate
A person can multiply their age by 0.88 then subtract that number from 206. For a person who is 20, for example, the equation would be: 206 minus (20 x 0.88) = a maximum heart rate of 188.4 bpm.
Then, to calculate the target upper and lower heart rates, a person can work out 50% of the maximum (50% of 188.4 is 94.2) and 85% of the maximum (85% of 188.4 is 160.14). Using this formula, the target heart rate for a 20-year-old is approximately 95–160 bpm.
How does exercise affect heart rate over time?
As a person starts to exercise regularly and gain fitness over time, they will be able to exercise within a higher heart rate zone. This is because they are training their heart and muscles to respond to repeat exertion.
People may start out with a target of 50% of their maximum heart rate, but before long, they will be able to comfortably train at a target of 85%.
A 2018 review study found that people can improve their heart health and lower their resting heart rate by exercising regularly. Regular exercise reduces a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and other medical conditions.
However, the researchers also suggest that continuously high levels of exercise — such as marathon running — could be harmful to heart health.
Engaging in aerobic and endurance exercises also contributes to improved fitness, increased muscle tone, and improvements in general physical and mental well-being. In fact, one 2016 meta-analysis reports that “exercise has a large and significant antidepressant effect on people with depression.”
How to monitor heart rate
Once a person has calculated their target heart rate zones, they can find out whether or not they are meeting these ranges by measuring their heart rate while running.
The most basic method for testing heart rate is to count pulse rate by hand. To do this, a person can place two fingers lightly on the opposite wrist until they can feel the pulse.
Count the number of pulse beats that occur in 30 seconds and multiply this by two to find out the number of beats in 60 seconds.
An easier way to measure heart rate during exercise is to wear a wristwatch or chest monitor that picks up on heartbeat. There are many products to choose from, such as heart rate watches and heart rate straps, online.
Otherwise, it may be a good idea to book some time with a treadmill or a personal trainer to get accurate heart rate readings and set goals.
When is heart rate too high?
If a person experiences chest tightness during running, their heart rate may be too high.
Although an increased heart rate is one aim of exercise, pushing the heart too far can be harmful.
Signs that a person is pushing their heart too far include chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and a relative inability to talk while running.
If a person notices any of these signs, they should slow down and concentrate on breathing steadily. If a person always experiences chest pain with exercise, they should seek a professional medical opinion immediately.
It is important to note that these target heart rates are for “average” individuals who are otherwise healthy.
If a person is taking any medications that slow down heart rate or affect the way the heart responds to exercise, or if they have a history of cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, or another medical issue, they should discuss safe levels of exercise with a doctor before starting any exercise regimen.
People can maximize their fitness or weight loss goals by calculating their ideal running heart rate and staying within this zone when exercising. The ideal running heart rate varies depending on a person’s age, current fitness level, and other factors.
Tracking heart rate while running may be especially useful for endurance training and training in different weather conditions, since temperature and humidity also affect heart rate.
Generally, a person’s heart rate during exercise should be between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate. There are a variety of formulas that people can use to calculate their maximum heart rate.
There are also many monitors available that can track a person’s heart rate during exercise.