Author: Dr. Gary Huber

How to check your pulse and guidelines for Heart Rate targets during exercise.

Monitoring your heart rate and blood pressure are key to understanding your degree of fitness. As the human body deconditions or gets “out of shape” the heart rate and blood pressure will tend to elevate reflecting a deteriorating state of cardiovascular health. Tracking these numbers will help track progress and intensity of exercise.

Much like a tachometer on a car, the heart rate elevates as the speed of your activity increases. We will use this increase in heart rate to measure intensity of exercise. So what is a normal heart rate? There is a simple calculation based on age that will give us a rough approximation but anyone’s individual heart rate can be higher or lower based on his or her individual fitness. Just because you are 52 years old does not mean you can’t have the cardiovascular fitness of a 30 year old if you train appropriately.

Here is the heart rate formula:

   220 – age = maximal heart rate

We do not recommend that you strive to reach this “maximum” level, it serves simply as a reference point. If your objective is to engage in “intense exercise” we recommend that your goal should be to attain a heart rate reflecting 90% of this maximum. Multiply the “maximal heart rate” estimate by 0.9 to discover your heart rate goal for intense exercise if you are a reasonably fit patient without known cardiovascular disease. In general we will not recommend that you push your heart rate above 90% of maximum but certainly as you train and become more fit your true heart rate maximum may increase. Talk with us if you feel these calculations are not adequate or appropriate for you.


Heart Rate Recommendations

Here are the general recommendations for heart rate goal during exercise:

90% of maximum

  • Attainable by most reasonably conditioned people.
  • This represents the greatest avenue for improving cardiovascular fitness. Exercising intermittently at this level over time will reduce resting heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Patients with cardiovascular disease such as coronary disease, congestive heart failure, poorly controlled hypertension or arrhythmia (irregular heart rate) should discuss this with their physician or with Dr. Huber before engaging in such intense exercise.
  • High intensity intervals will typically generate this level of heart rate and is one of the most efficient tools for burning fat and losing excess weight.

75% of maximum

  • Can generally be accomplished during the course of any exercise activity.
  • This reflects a moderate degree of exertion and exercising below this level will produce minimal “training effect”. The training effect means that your cardiovascular fitness level is being challenged by the activity and that you are gaining cardiovascular fitness.
  • To exercise below this level will not greatly improve cardiovascular fitness but will serve a purpose as it burns calories and prepares the body for more rigorous activity.
  • You don't need to exercise at this level in order to burn fat and lose weight. But there are other benefits as we discussed back in week 5.

60% of maximum

  • This is the lowest level of activity that will be considered “exercise”.
  • Exercising at this pace is a great way to gently move your health forward as it is non-threatening and sustainable.
  • If you are new to exercise or rekindling an old exercise habit then this is a great starting point.
  • Older individuals or those who carry excessive weight will find this level reasonable to their ability yet still provide some training effect.
  • This is also a good recovery workout level to be used the day after an intense workout.


How To Measure Your Heart Rate

There are several ways to assess your present heart rate. You can feel your own pulse by placing your fingers over your carotid artery located in your neck adjacent to your “Adams apple”, or feeling the radial artery located on the thumb side of your wrist.

To find your carotid artery in the neck simply locate your Adams apple or voice box prominence in the middle of your neck in the midline. Now slide your fingers laterally or to the side slowly and as you go down the side of the voice box you will feel a depression into softer tissue. The carotid artery lies there and you should feel a strong pulse against your fingers.


The radial artery is located on the palm side of your wrist. Flex your hand back and forth at the wrist and notice the two tendons, hard cords that rise when you move it. The radial artery lies just lateral to these tendons, closer to the thumb side of the wrist. Place your finger in this soft tissue area until you locate the firm pulse.

With your fingers on one of these pulses, simply count the number of beats you feel in the span of 20 seconds and then multiply that number by 3 calculate the “beats per minute” of your heart. This is your active heart rate.

Another alternative is to use a heart rate monitor. These can be purchased as a chest strap that is worn to detect your heart rate and then is transmitted to a wristwatch that displays your active heart rate. This will give you a moment-to-moment update of what you heart rate is doing while you exercise. Anther option is to purchase a pulse oximeter. This is a nice device that simply goes over the end of your finger like a clothespin and will give you an instant read out of your body’s heart rate and amount of oxygen in the blood stream. Both of these devices can be purchased starting at around $75.


Over-Training Syndrome & Heart Rate

Over-Training Syndrome can occur in individuals who engage in very intense exercise too frequently or for excessive periods of time. Symptoms include mental and physical sluggishness with an intolerance for exercise. The body is not able to recover from the excessive previous efforts and simply needs rest, proper nutrition and time to recover. Monitoring heart rate is an excellent tool for judging your body’s recovery and will can help guide your effort so that you avoid Over-Training Syndrome.

Simple measure you heart rate each morning as you awaken before you ever get out of bed. Get to know what your “typical” baseline resting heart rate range is first thing in the morning. If you see a spike in that number by more than 4 or 5 points above your typical rate then your body is trying to tell you that it is “stressed” and you should review your workouts over the past few days looking for evidence of intense or excessive efforts. Lifestyle stressors may also be contributing to this rise in heart rate. This would not be the day to do intervals and in fact you should continue to monitor your rate over the next successive mornings and plan for gentler efforts until it corrects to normal.


Risk For Heart Disease & Stroke

A resting heart rate above 62 beats per minute reflects an increased risk for heart disease. Your risk for having a heart attack or stroke over time increases with each 3 to 4 beat rise such that a person with a consistent resting heart rate of greater than 70 has elevated their personal risk by more than 20%.

This same dynamic applies to blood pressure. As blood pressure elevates above 120/80 the risk for heart disease and stroke rise as vascular damage is occurring due to the stress this places on the walls of the blood vessel. A consistent exercise program has demonstrated the ability to reduce both blood pressure and heart rate and reduce risk for heart disease and stroke.

Your meditation habit is also excellent for reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Your low sugar, high fiber, low toxin diet is also a great tool in this effort. Bottom line, if your heart rate and blood pressure are high then there is a reason for it but have infinite control to make changes. By following the Virtuoso Wellness program you have all the tools you need to be successful so simply have confidence in your capacity for change and work all the angles to get that heart rate below 63 at rest. You can do this.



  1. Check your morning heart rate in the morning before you ever set one foot out of the bed. This will likely be your lowest heart rate of the day.


  1. Check your heart rate and pressure after you have been meditating and notice the control you can exert by a steady practice of this habit.


  1. Check your heart rate while exercising as a gauge of your level of exertion. Get familiar and comfortable with what different activities do to your heart rate and be able to predict what you heart rate is at any time. This familiarity with your body rhythms and responses will allow you to exert greater control over your heart rate to benefit your reduction of heart disease risk.