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3 Reasons Why the Use of a Heart Rate Monitor Is Important

heart rate monitor

The heart rate monitor is an important tool.  It helps to give important data to determine the efficiency or lack of efficiency of the cardiovascular system.  It monitors the number of times the heart beats per minute and then you can use that data to determine things like – how long it takes for the heart to return to its resting heart rate: how long you are in your target heart rate zone: and how many calories are burned during a cardio session.  Why is this information important?

  1. Monitoring resting heart rates daily can provide a window into external stressors such as overtraining, prolonged stress (over triggering of sympathetic system), sleep deprivation, dehydration and illness. According to the American Heart Association the greatest stressors on the heart are high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.
  2. Monitoring target heart rates gives the user an idea of the cardiovascular exertion of their exercise protocols.
  3. Using a blended average of the heart rate during a work session can give a general idea of how many calories are burned supporting weight loss goals.

Heart Rate Monitor Essentials

There are many heart rate monitor options available to consumers these days.  How does one pick the right option for them?   When consulting with clients I use the three main reasons above as a starting point with them when purchasing a heart rate monitor.  Other things like steps, GPS tracking, s/w sync are not essential, but a bonus for additional fitness tracking.  Personally I find that heart rate monitors with a chest strap are more accurate but the optical wrist sensor is more comfortable.  See breakingmuscle.com blog comparing chest strap and optical wrist sensor accuracy.  So which heart rate monitors give you the greatest bang for your buck?  After pouring through loads of reviews I have listed my top 2 choices below.

Polar H10 (see review) heart rate monitor

  • Improved electrodes make the H10 the most accurate heart rate sensor in Polar’s history.
  • Compatible with top fitness apps, gym equipment and many other bluetooth devices
  • Built in memory for heart rate data from one training session.  It stores full heart rate data, shown in a chart, including max and average heart rates, workout time, calories burned and fat burn percent of calories that can be transferred to Polar Beat (free fitness and training app)

Cost:  $89.95

WahooTICKRX

heart rate monitor

  • Combines a heart rate monitor and workout tracker that capture both motion and intensity to help you make the most of your workout.
  • Built in memory for heart rate data just as the H10. It stores full heart rate data, shown as a chart, plus max and average rates, workout time, calories burned and time spent in fat burn and burst modes (at maximum heart rate).
  • Following features are available ONLY via Bluetooth 4.0 on the iPhone 4s or newer and Android phones on 4.3.3 or newer exclusively in the Wahoo Fitness App: Offline Workouts – Will give you heart rate, workout duration, and calories burned, Treadmill Mode (Will not work during offline workouts), Running Smoothness (Will not work during offline workouts), Indoor Cycling Mode (Will not work during offline workouts)

Cost:  $79.95

Resting Heart Rate

A good resting heart rate is an indicator of good heart health and fitness and typically falls between 60-80 bpm for the average person.  According to the American Heart Association a healthy resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 bpm and a resting heart rate above 100 bpm is dangerous and defined as tachycardia (See AMA article).

By taking daily reads of the resting heart rate using a heart rate monitor it gives the user a powerful tool.  Diligent tracking of spikes in the resting heart rate can be a helpful diagnostic.  When spikes occur in a healthy resting heart rate then the user can review activity leading up to the spike to discover what caused it.  Some typical causes of a spike could be excessive coffee, lack of sleep, overtraining, psychological stress or the onset of illness.

Here are 3 strategies to consider to reduce your resting heart rate.  The quicker the heart returns to its resting rate the greater the efficiency and health of the heart.

  1. Consider modifying your diet moving away from refined carbohydrates and sugar.  (link within link to intermittent fasting).
  2. Consider establishing a good sleep pattern tapping into the body’s circadian rhythms.  When the sleep cycle is disrupted or inconsistent it makes it difficult for the body to function efficiently.  See NIH article on Circadian Rhythms.
  3. Consider learning how to utilize meditative breathing.  The breath is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to bring down the heart rate preventing a huge cortisol jump from the adrenals that sets a negative chain reaction off in the body.

Target Heart Rate

Your target heart rate gives you a guideline for the intensity of your exercise on the cardiovascular system.  A good, simple way to determine your maximum target heart rate for your training efforts is to subtract your age from 220.  The number identified becomes the maximum target heart rate and is considered the heart’s 100% effort.  See sample table below.

Name Age Height Weight 100% Max 50%-60% 60%-80% 80%-90%
Connie 39 5’3” 148lbs 181 91-109 109-145 145-163
Ron 48 5’9” 175lbs 172 86-103 103-138 138-155
Betty 61 5’2” 264lbs 159 80-95 95-127 127-143

 

Working within different heart rate ranges provides different health benefits.  There are two kinds of cardio activity – aerobic and anaerobic.  Aerobic activity indicates that oxygen is involved as a fuel for the activity.  Anaerobic activity indicates that oxygen is NOT involved as a fuel for the activity.

  • 50%-60% Range – This is the range in which the body begins to use oxygen and fatty acid as primary energy sources for the activity.
  • 60%-80% Range – In this range the body begins to utilize glucose for energy in addition to oxygen and fatty acids. In the 60%-70% range you are in the fat burning zone.  When you reach the 70%-80% range you are in a cardiovascular conditioning zone.
  • 80%-90% Range – In this range the body taps into stores of glucose called glycogen to fuel activity. This range is good for interval training using burst cardio and then returning to the lower target heart rate range.

The 60%-80% range is the prime range for cardiovascular training.  The 50%-60% range is a good initial start point for those who are completely untrained or coming off sickness.  Both ranges are aerobic.  The 80%-90% range is utilized by athletes who achieve higher intensity, shorter duration muscular contractions using more intense conditioning protocols.  This range is considered anaerobic and is used for interval or burst cardio sessions.  For more information on burst cardio see Cardiovascular Training Plan.

Working within the prime range is where an average trainee will gain the greatest benefit.  In our work with obese folks we found that the 60%-80% range was easily achieved when they walked at a normal pace.  They didn’t need to run or beat themselves up.  Just moving their mass by walking was enough to trigger a sufficient elevated heart rate to assist them in their conditioning and weight loss goals.

Heart Rate Blended Average for Calories Burned

Both the H10 and WahooTICKRX have a calorie tracking feature during an exercise session.   Heart rate monitors only indirectly estimate calories expended during certain types of exercise.  For greatest calorie counting accuracy you must be able to include VO2 max along with HR max, VO2 max, gender, age weight and HR rest.  The VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen the body utilizes during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.

Does that mean that the estimate of calories expended is not useful unless you know your VO2 max?  This is not necessarily true.  If you are consistent in monitoring your activity using a heart rate monitor the calorie data gathered is accurate unto itself.  Combine this information with a structured nutrition plan to manage weight loss goals.  Typically it takes 3,500 calories burned in a week through exercise to lose a pound of fat.  It is important to know generally how many calories you are taking in so you can find the tipping point where your metabolism works for you and starts to burn bodyfat stores.

Conclusion

The heart rate monitor is an essential tool for physical transformation and overall health.  I highly recommend it to all my clients who are serious about changing their bodies and becoming fit.  A fitter heart is the key to longevity.

 

Stacy Gallagher

12 Comments

  1. Hi-thank you this information is very useful I have been looking for this information though I do understand cm and kg but looking at the figures make more sense .i have enjoyed your post very educative

  2. Hi Stacy, that is a load of information and information that is extremely vital. I have always wondered about the heart rate monitor and Oxygen monitor that come pre-loaded with the mobile phones – how accurate are those or are they just gimmicks to sell the phones. What are your thoughts?

    • The heart rate monitors are accurate unto themselves. Each company – polar, fitbit, etc- has their own proprietary algorithm. What I found was that the Polar H10 was only off by about 1-2 bpm where the fitbit can be off as much as 22bpm with an average of 3-4bpm when compared to an actual EKG. If you consistently use a HRM for activity then you can work around some inaccuracy. The technology has come a long way in the last 10-15 years. My hubbie, Marty Gallagher, has been a fitness writer for almost 20 years and was a huge proponent of the HRM before Polar really knew how to use the heart rate data. Now it is a huge trend. Please let me know if you get this comment at stacygallagher70@gmail.com. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Very informative and interesting article. Hear monitor is a very important tool as you’ve stated in your article. I was a nurse for at the IMCU for few years, and the heart monitor is a vital tool for or job. I love the fact you lists several heart monitor tools to purchase and the helpful information to go along with them. I appreciate the work.

  4. Hello Stacy
    Your post is full of wonderful information, so well explained. My father in law went through heart attack last year and luckily he survived. I think heart rate monitor is a great product and I will bring this to his notice. Thank you for sharing

    • What a great Christmas present a heart rate monitor would be! I have several older personal training clients (60-75) who use their monitors religiously. It gives great data and a person such as your father-in-law could start in a 50% range. Please feel free to contact me at stacygallagher70@gmail.com if you have any additional questions.

  5. Interesting I stumbled upon your article on reasons to monitor your heart rate, I was Xmas shopping online and one of the recommended gifts for seniors was a heart monitor.

    I did not purchase a heart monitor for the seniors on my Xmas list, I did not think they would use the gift but what is your opinion on seniors using a heart monitor as a Xmas gift?

    • I actually think it is a great idea!  My general personal training demographic is the 40-80 group.  For older folks it gives them a frame of reference as to the intensity of the work that they do whether weight training or cardio.  I would probably recommend a fitbit for a senior because of the ease of use.  However, the accuracy is going to be about 5 beats off.  The upside is that the watch is accurate unto itself so the user can see trends in spiking and resting heart rates.   

  6. This is a highly educational review of the heart, heart rate and importance of the heart rate monitor. I need to know more about this. I only focus on my systolic and diastolic pressure and kind of disregard the heart rate. I know this is wrong as at one time my cardiologist emphasized that I should pay attention to my heart rate. Based on your review, my resting heart rate falls within the normal limits so I am not worried. But now I know the importance of paying attention to this when I check my stats. I am a bit more informed now than I was before. Thanks to you.

    • Hey there Rebecca,

      Thanks for your comment.  I am glad to hear you have a resting heart rate that falls within the normal range.  A heart rate monitor would help to give you regular stats not only on your resting heart rate, but measure the exertion to the heart during physical activity.  A good resting heart rate falls between 50-75 while the average goes up to 100.  Adding exertion to the heart whether progressive resistance or cardio on a regular basis helps to change an average resting heart rate to a good resting heart rate.  

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