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How to Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate

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Have you ever felt your heart beating quickly during a workout and stopped to check your pulse on your wrist or neck? Your pulse determines your heart rate, or how many times your heart beats in one minute. Pulse rates differ from person to person based on various factors, such as weight and activity level. To get the best results, you should exercise below your maximum heart rate in what is referred to as your target heart rate; this will guarantee that you are achieving the ideal intensity level for your goals. Knowing and monitoring your maximum heart rate while you're active can be a powerful gauge of your intensity level and help you to avoid over- or underexercising.

Heart Rate by Age

The traditional method, also known as HRmax, is a simple way of gauging your maximum heart rate. Start by subtracting your age from 220. Then, use the result to calculate your range.

For example, if you're 50 years old, the calculation would be: 220 - 50 = 170 (HRmax). To calculate your heart rate on the high end of the suitable range (about 75 percent of your max heart rate), multiply 170 by 0.75 (max intensity) to get about 128 beats per minute (bpm).

Heart Rate by Age and Gender

A recent study found that the traditional method of calculating HRmax detailed above has been overestimating peak heart rates for women for nearly forty years; traditional HRmax calculations are based on a male standard. In 1992, Northwestern Medicine conducted an extensive study of nearly 6,000 women, which helped them come up with a new formula that gives a more accurate estimation of heart rates that healthy woman should achieve during exercise. This method is also more precise in predicting the risk of heart-related issues during a stress test. Based on the new research, the new formula for women is 206 minus 88 percent of their age: For a 50-year-old, 206 - (50 x 0.88) = 162 bpm.

Heart Rate by Age and Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is a valuable metric to determine your fitness level and heart health. A range of factors can affect your resting heart rate, including your body size, activity level, and body position. According to the American Heart Association, the average person's resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 bpm. You'll need to know how to find your pulse in order to calculate your resting heart rate.

As you become more physically fit, your heart becomes more able to pump blood to the rest of the body. The Karvonen method, otherwise known as the heart rate reserve (HRR) formula, takes your resting heart rate into consideration by introducing the difference between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. To determine your HRR, take your HRmax and subtract your resting heart rate (RHR). For a more accurate calculation, average the sum of your resting pulse for three consecutive mornings prior to getting out of bed. The Karvonen formula is your heart rate reserve multiplied by the percentage of intensity plus your resting heart rate.

For example, a 50-year-old with a resting heart rate of 65 would calculate as follows:

  • 220 - 50 = 170 for HRmax
  • 170 - 65 = 105 for RHR
  • [105 x 0.75 (max intensity)] + 65 = about 144 bpm


Always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program to determine what a safe heart rate zone is for you. Additionally, stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel any discomfort or if you become dizzy or short of breath.

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