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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 important?

1.

(Click the link above) 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.

(Click the link above) Monitoring target heart rates gives the user an idea of the cardiovascular exertion of their exercise protocols.

3.

(Click the link above) 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.

4.

(Click the link above) The heart rate monitor market is flooded with a myriad of options these days. In terms of technology there are two ways to go - chest strap monitoring and optical sensor monitoring.  

1. 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. Click here to download your FREE guide to sugar
  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.

2. 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 example below.

Age: 39

100% Max: 220-39=181

50%-60%: 181 x .5=91, 181x.6=109    Range: 91-109

60%-80%: 181x.6=109, 181x.8=145    Range: 109-145

80%-90%: 181x.8=145, 181x.9=163    Range: 145-163

3. Blended Average Heart Rate

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.

Which Heart Rate Monitor is Best for You?

The heart rate monitor market is flooded with a myriad of options these days. In terms of technology there are two ways to go - chest strap monitoring and optical sensor monitoring. Overall optical sensor monitoring is primarily preferred because of its incorporation into fitness trackers. Prior to your purchase here are some things to consider:

1. What is your spending limit?

Generally, most heart rate monitor/fitness trackers cost between $75-$250. If you pay less than $75 you will find mediocre accuracy which defeats the purpose of tracking. More expensive options with a GPS feature are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts and may not be necessary.

2. What type of activity are you monitoring?

What sport do you participate in? Swimmers will want a waterproof tracker, but keep in mind that not all water-safe trackers actually track swimming. Runners will probably want a watch that shows time, distance, pace, and lap time, at the very least. Cyclists have even more considerations. There's a difference between tracking how many miles you pedal and calories you burn versus monitoring your power and cadence.

3. What style of monitor fits your goals?

Chest Strap Monitoring

Chest strap heart rate monitors measure electrical signals generated by your heart when it contracts. Because of its direct contact over the heart a chest strap tends to be more accurate. The downside of the chest strap is ease of use and comfort. If not wrapped tightly around the chest it can easily slip out of place and is difficult to reposition while moving. The chest strap is primarily used by runners and cyclists, but is not practical for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.

See blog on technology accuracy

Optical Sensor Monitoring

Optical wrist sensor monitors are the most common pulse sensors. Heart rate data is measured using photoplethysmography. This is a process of using small LED lights to refract off of blood flow to determine pulse readings. There can be periodic connectivity issues with the watch that cause a slight lag in measuring spikes in heart rates. Overall, this is a far more comfortable way to monitor heart rate especially for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.

Where are you at in your fitness goals?

Consider adding a heart rate monitor to your gym bag or your life.  Whether you are an active athlete or an average person trying to shed body fat this is an essential tool for physical transformation and overall health.

Would you lift weights without knowing the poundage? Why do cardio without knowing your intensity?

After extensive research we have compiled a list of many different heart rate monitor options from chest straps to armbands to smartwatches. More expensive options with a GPS feature are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts and may not be necessary. We found that quality, accurate heart rate monitor/fitness trackers cost between $60-$275. Learn More about our recommendations. 

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25 Comments

  1. Kwacha

    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. Deepika

    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?

    • Stacy Gallagher

      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. hong

    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. Ramandeep

    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

    • Stacy Gallagher

      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. jeffrey16201

    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?

    • Stacy Gallagher

      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. Rebecca

    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.

    • Stacy Gallagher

      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.  

  7. Tony

    Hi, Stacy,
    Thank you for exploring the topic so extensively! Now I am aware of the main types and brands of heart rate monitors. My workout pressure is average. Could you advise and share with me what would be your choice for a heart rate monitor?

    Thank you!

    • Stacy Gallagher

      Thanks for the read! I think for the average person the fitbit is the way to go. It has the most versatility and comfort compared to the chest strap. The optical sensor can have periodic connectivity issues, but if you are tracking activity on a regular basis this is not a big impediment.
      Thanks,
      Stacy

  8. Tara

    Hi Stacy, great post. This clearly defines why it is so important to regularly check your heart rate and to use a heart rate monitor. Its quite useful to have links to the available recommended products right on the post. Thank you

  9. Charlie

    I have been using heart monitors for years I really enjoy using them and its been instrumental part of my current success they keep me motivated and on track, great article and hope more people get one.

  10. Alexis

    Hi Stacy. This is an excellent read regarding the importance of heart rate monitor.
    I’ve been using HRM chest straps, activity trackers, and sports watches for several years. Although they are not 100% accurate, they have been significantly improved. The heart rate monitor is indeed a great tool to help you adjust the intensity level of the exercise to get the most out of your physical activity.
    Thank you.

    • Stacy Gallagher

      Thanks for the comment! Heart rate monitoring technology has come a long way over the years. Accuracy was a real problem in the early Polar days when they dominated the market. The watch would cut off once it got below 60bpm. Not very helpful if you are trying to determine heart rate stats for a 24 hour period of time. Now there are a myriad of options from multiple manufacturers providing the public with tons of choices.

      Thanks again,
      Stacy

  11. yoge

    My cousin and sister have been urging me to learn more about the use of a heart rate monitor for my health.  I found your article searching to learn more about this tool.  After reading your article I understand why I should consider purchasing a heart rate monitor for myself.  I am new to the fitness world and want to keep my heart in a healthy range while exercising.  I found your recommendations quite helpful and informative!

  12. Nimrodngy

    Thanks a lot for summarizing such an amazing content about heart rate monitor. 

    I want to say that i go to the gym everyday  doing different types of trainings: cardio, aerobic and lifting weights. I really need a heart rate monitor for this activities to help me to increase or decrease my efforts. 

    I have a Huawei phone, do you know that if I need to do any software update before make the connectivity with Wahoo bluetooth HRM Chest strap?

    Thanks a lot and keep in touch. 

    • Stacy Gallagher

      Thanks for the read!  I just did some quick research on the Wahoo site about connectivity.  The page says that you have compatibility with over 110 different fitness apps.  It does not have any info on the Huawei phone.  I have added the link to the page for you to view as I am not familiar with the specs on the Huawei phone and its compatibility to certain apps.  See the link below:
      https://www.wahoofitness.com/fitness-apps

      I have added another link on Cardio Training that you might find helpful that has some additional information on different cardio training modes.  See link below:
      https://functional-strength.org/cardio-training

      Hopefully you will find these additional links helpful.  Please let me know if you have any additional questions.  Good luck on training journey!

      Stacy Gallagher
      Get Strong! Live Long!

  13. KingAndrea

    Its a great opportunity for me to come across this amazing and informative article, this is actually the first time I’m reading extensively about the need to monitor our heart rate. It’s really important to do so because of one major reason, awareness, it brings to your notice some conditions that are quite detrimental to the health like sleep deprivation, over stressing and lots more that you’ve mentioned here. Thanks for the enlightenment, and thanks for suggesting what to look out for when selecting a monitor to buy.

  14. Wildecoll

    The advancement of technology allowing an individual to monitor and manage their heart rate is an amazing thing.  I just recently purchased a Fitbit which is on your recommended list of smart watches.  After reading your post I learned a new strategy for using the data I get from my watch.  I am looking forward to implementing this strategy in the new year.

  15. Samikingss

    Monitoring the heart rate is key to maintaining health especially for people in their 40’s and over. Understanding different heart rate ranges can help people better manage their stress and overall health. This post gave me some new information about how to use a heart rate monitor for my fitness activities. I am definitely ready to purchase a fitness tracker that can help me not only on the heart rate front, but also to monitor sleep and overall activity.

  16. Madyibilg

    I found this article to be interesting and informative.  I had not considered the importance of monitoring heart rate on a daily basis as a guide to overall health. This article has inspired me to purchase a heart rate monitor and begin to track my heart rate during exercise and at rest.  I know I will find this to be a useful tool in my everyday life.  Thank you for this valuable information!

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