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In Shape

Heart Rate Monitors
by Carol Krucoff

Hi-Tech Training Tool Helps You Exercise in the Results Zone

The traditional method of monitoring your heart rate during exercise—taking your pulse—can literally be a pain in the neck. Not only does it require you to stop exercising, this method can be inaccurate. But, it's important to keep track of your heart rate to ensure you're working out at the proper intensity to achieve your goals. Too low an intensity may give you little visible benefit, while too high an intensity may tire you out and be potentially risky.

Tune In For Results

To tell if you're working out hard enough—or too hard—for optimum fitness, it's important to tune in to nature's "intensity indicator": your heart rate. When you do aerobic activity (such as walking, cycling or jogging) your heart beats faster to meet the body's demand for more oxygen. The more intense the activity, the faster your heart beats. Heart rate monitors—ranging in price from about $60 up to more than $250—are high-tech, biofeedback devices that let you check your heart rate continuously and accurately during exercise, providing a fun, effective and motivating way to make sure you're getting the most from your workout.

Compute Your Choices

Most monitors consist of two parts: a transmitter that you wear around your ribcage and a wrist receiver that you wear like a watch. (Some new, more expensive models don't require a transmitter and work with just the "watch-like" device.) The least expensive models simply measure your heart rate. Easiest to use, they typically display your heart rate in big, easy-to-read numbers.

The next level in complexity and expense are monitors that let you key in your target heart rate zone, which is the range you need to work in to achieve optimum results. Also known as your training zone, this range is from 50 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. Monitors with a target heart rate zone feature let you program in the high and low range of your training zone and sound an alarm if you stray out of your zone.

If you want to spend more money for more features, you can find monitors that will tell you the calories burned and time of your exercise session, plus models with nighttime vision, alarm clock, time of day and stop watch. Serious athletes can spend more than $150 on sophisticated models that store data from previous workouts (such as average heart rate and the time spent in, above and below your target zone) in its memory. The most advanced and expensive models let you download information about your workouts into a computer, often with software sold separately. The model you select largely depends on your goals and your budget.

It's important to remember that heart rate monitors aren't magic "get fit" devices. They will take the guesswork out of training, but they won't work unless you use them. A monitor may provide the motivation and inspiration to get results, but only getting up and moving will get you fit.

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Calculating your Training Zone

 First find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.

 Multiply that number by 0.5 to get your lower-limit heart rate and by 0.9 to get your upper limit heart rate. (For example, if you're 40, subtract 40 from 220 to get 180. Multiply 180 by 0.5 to get 90 and by 0.9 to get 162. Your training zone is 90 to 162 beats per minute.)

 If you've been sedentary, you may want to exercise in the low end of this range. If you're very fit, you can probably tolerate exercise in the higher end of this range.


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