Exercise is obviously essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle - but if you're not putting enough effort in, the time spent exercising could have been spent more wisely or if you're pushing yourself too hard, you could be at risk of muscle strains and other injuries.
So how can you tell whether you're exercising at the right intensity? According to experts, it's all in your heart rate - and having a target heart rate is essential when measuring how intense your exercise is.
Your resting heart rate can help you to determine how fit you already are or aren't! The lower your heart rate is when you are doing nothing, the more physically fit you are. A high heart rate can put you at risk of various types of heart disease.
To find your resting heart rate, find a watch or clock that has a second hand. Before you get out of bed in the morning, find your pulse either on your wrist or on the side of your neck using your index and middle finger. Don’t use your thumb. Count how many beats you feel in 10 seconds, then multiply this by 6. For example, if you count10 beats in 10 seconds, 10X6 = 48 beats per minute (bpm). This is your resting heart rate.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain your current weight, or improve your aerobic fitness level, you will reach those goals more quickly when you keep your heart rate within certain target zones. Your target zone might also differ depending on how fit you are.
If you've not exercised for weeks or even months, you might not be wanting to hit 85% of your maximum heart rate straight away! Here are some examples of different target zones based on different fitness levels:
If you are taking any type of blood pressure medication, or if you have any type of heart problem, please consult with your doctor before attempting any type of exercise routine.
The target heart rate to burn the most fat, and even continue to burn fat after you’ve finished exercising is 70-85%. This is known as the 'afterburn effect', and it happens because your high-intensity workout has caused a metabolic disturbance which means calories are still being burnt even when you're finished your workout.
The fat-burning myth
There's a rumour perpetuated by many fitness and health magazines, which states that the optimum fat-burning 'zone' is between 55-65% of your maximum heart rate. Experts have dispelled this myth and put it to bed many times, but it's worth reaffirming.
The concept of the ideal fat-burning zone came about because at lower exercise intensities (if you're doing cardio, for example), more fat is burned relative to glycogen, the substance that stores carbohydrates in your body. That might sound great - but when you look at the calorie burn, the figures are very different.
High intensity exercise will burn more calories than low intensity workouts, and this is key when trying to create that coveted 'afterburn effect'.
A bit of science…
A study was carried out at the University of Southern Maine, which involved two groups of people doing different types of exercise. One group was cycling at a steady rate for 3.5 minutes (low intensity). The other group performed three 15-second sprints, running for as fast as they could in a short space of time (high intensity).
The group on the bikes burned 29 calories during the exercise, compared to just 4 calories burned by the sprinters. But the 'afterburn effect' soon kicked in - the sprinters burned 65 calories after they'd finished exercising, compared to just 39 calories burned by the cyclists.
This study shows that high-intensity exercise with your heart rate in the 70-85% region can have a much greater effect on weight loss and fat-burning than standard cardio.
If you're now thinking about measuring your heart rate to see how effectively you're burning fat, there are a number of ways in which you can do so, with many of them thanks to modern technology:
So there you have it - everything you need to know about your target heart rate, how to measure it and how to reach that coveted 'afterburn zone' that burns calories after you’ve finished exercising. Have you tried any of these methods? Have you noticed a difference between your high-intensity workouts and your low-intensity exercise?