You don't have to be a marathon runner to gain the benefits of physical activity, but it does help if you're tracking your fitness. If you're not particularly active now, make it your goal to add moderate amounts of activity to your day. Start slowly and work your way up to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. An easy way to assess whether your heart and lungs are becoming more fit as you become more active is to check your heart rate while engaging in physical activity. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, you should stay within your target heart rate range while exercising.
Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats at any given minute. Your target heart rate range includes the minimum and maximum your heart should beat per minute to improve your level of fitness. To calculate your target heart rate range, first you must estimate your maximum heart rate. A general method of determining your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220; your target heart rate range, then, is 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. (For example, if you are 55 years old, subtract 55 from 220, which equals 165; this is your maximum heart rate. Multiply 165 by 50 percent, or 0.50, which equals approximately 83, to determine the minimum beats per minute of the target heart rate range. Multiply 165 by 75 percent, or 0.75, which equals approximately 124, to determine the maximum beats per minute of the target heart rate range. The target heart rate range is 83 to 124 beats per minute.) It is advisable to stay within your target heart rate range while exercising. Unless you're in excellent shape, exceeding this range can be too strenuous, while activity below this range may not be enough to benefit your heart and lungs.
To find out if you're exercising within your target heart rate range, take your pulse during and immediately after completing your activity. Place the tips of your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist, right below the base of your thumb. When you feel your pulse, check the second hand on a clock or on your watch, and then count your pulse for ten seconds and multiply the count by six. Adjust the intensity of your activity so you stay within your target heart rate range.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adrienne Forman, M.S., R.D., is a consultant and freelance writer, specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the editor of Shape Up America! newsletter, an online publication, and has been a contributing editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter for the past 14 years. Adrienne is a former Senior Nutritionist at Weight Watchers International, where she was instrumental in creating multiple weight-loss programs, including their popular Points® program.