What's my target heart rate?

By: Bobbie Hasselbring

To tell what intensity you are exercising at, you can compare your actual heart rate during exercise to your target heart rate. Your heart rate is your number of heartbeats per minute. Your target heart rate is the rate that you need to get to - or your goal - during aerobic exercise to improve your fitness level. The harder you exercise, the faster your heart must beat to deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your muscles.

You don't necessarily need to exercise at your target heart rate to lower your risk for heart and blood vessel disease. Even moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, may help improve your health. However, your target heart rate may still be useful to you. It's one reliable way to assess the intensity of your activity.

Understanding the Numbers

Target heart rates are based on age. They are usually expressed as a range, such as 108 to 144 beats per minute. The lower end of the target heartbeat range - in this case, 108 - is half of the fastest heart rate that a typical person your age should have during exercise. If you're just starting out, you may want to aim for this lower end of the range. The high end of the range - in this case, 144 - is three-quarters of the fastest heart rate that a typical person your age should have during exercise. If you've been exercising for a few months, you may be able to aim for this higher end of the range. The fastest heart rate, also called maximum heart rate, is the highest safe heart rate for your age.

These ranges are meant as a general guideline. Some heart and blood pressure medicines do not allow your heart rate to increase as much as usual during exercise. One example of these medicines is beta-blockers. If you take these, talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

If you have health problems, the target heart-rate range for your age may not be right for you. But it will give you a basic idea of how to assess the intensity of your exercise. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or other health problems, be sure to ask your doctor to tell you the range in which you should work.

No matter what your health, it's a good idea to ask your doctor what target heart-rate range is right for you.

How to Figure Out Your Target Heart Rate

Here's how to figure out your target heart rate:

220 minus your age = Your maximum heart rate

Maximum heart rate x 0.5 = Low end of your target heart-rate range

Maximum heart rate x 0.75 = High end of your target heart-rate range

You don't have to use this formula. Instead, you can look up an estimate of your target heart rate on this table. Look for your age in the left column and then follow it across to the right column for your range.

AgeTarget Heart Rate (beats per minute)
20100 to 150
2598 to 146
3095 to 142
3593 to 138
4090 to 135
4588 to 131
5085 to 127
5583 to 123
6080 to 120
6578 to 116
7075 to 113
7573 to 109

How Can I Know If I'm in My Range?

To see whether you're in your target heart-rate range, follow these steps.
  • While you are exercising, find your pulse. Lightly press the tips of your first two fingers against one of the arteries in your neck. These are the blood vessels that are on either side of your Adam's apple.
  • Count the number of beats you feel in 10 seconds.
  • Multiply by 6 to get your heart rate per minute.
  • Compare this to your target heart rate. If your actual heart rate is lower than the low end of your target range, you may want to exercise a little harder. If it's higher than the high end of your target range, you should slow down a bit.