Heart-Rate Monitors 101

by in Fitness, May 15, 2012
heart rate monitors
Do you use a heart-rate monitor?

Looking for a way to make the most of your workouts? Try a heart-rate monitor on for size.

What is a Heart-Rate Monitor?
As advertised, these gadgets measure your heart rate (a.k.a take your pulse) by sensing and displaying how many times your heart beats each minute. While heart rates will vary from person to person, a healthy adult typically averages anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute while at rest. As physical activity increases, so will the beats.

While there are some decent mobile apps out there for pedometers, it’s a very different scene for heart-rate monitors – apps just won’t cut it (at least not yet).

The most common heart-rate monitor styles are worn on the wrist, but some come with chest straps for continuous monitoring of heart activity. Chest strap models are slightly more cumbersome but are also more accurate (and more expensive).  For the wrist-only models, you usually have to stop activity to get an accurate reading. There’s also a huge variety of options – units range in price from $30.00 to more than $500.00! I’m a big fan of anything made by Timex and Polar has a nice variety of budget-friendly models.

Extra features you may find include timers, GPS devices, footware accessories that measure distance traveled and the ability to store data and download it to your computer to track progress.

Getting Started
The higher your heart rate, the more calories you are burning but since it’s unrealistic (and unsafe) to maintain a high heart rate for too long, a monitor can help you keep a handle on things.

Using a heart rate monitor is a safe and smart way to monitor your intensity and helps make the most of your exercise sessions. Exercising in the proper heart rate range, or “zone” can maximize the efficiency of your workout.

Working out at varying percentages of your maximum heart rate helps to give you a better and more well-rounded workout. Lower intensity exercise burns a high percentage of fat while higher intensities use more carbs for fuel while helping to develop cardiovascular fitness and increase speed.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips
•    Get started with a simple and affordable heart-rate monitor and then trade up if you’re looking for more features.
•    Calculate your maximum heart rate with this simple calculation (220 – your age).
•    Vary exercise intensity between 50 and 85% of you maximum heart rate to diversify your exercise intensity.
•    Use interval training – a mix of low and high intensity — within a workout to burn the most calories.
•    Use a heart rate monitor for more than just running – it works for walking, biking and skiing too.

Tell Us: Do you use a heart rate monitor?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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Comments (1,662)

  1. PattiNYC says:

    I have some questions about heart rate monitors, I hope that someone is watching these posts and can answer them (at least given the type of experience that you have):
    1. Why is the "weight loss" heart rate always less than the "performance" heart rate? If you burn more calories at a higher rate, won't that also then burn more fat?
    2. My husband had a heart attack and is taking medications to lower his heart rate. As a result, should his goals be different than, say, mine? or someone else his age, weight and fitness level? (He lost 65 pounds, by the way and exercises 90 minutes, 7 days a week now, very VERY healthy)
    3. Is it more accurate to watch your heart rate and calculate calories burned than to use the calorie counts on exercise machines? I used to use a Mio heart rate watch, but gave it up after two died on me in 6 months. My calorie counts using the HR monitor were always much higher than the counts with the exercise machines and I was afraid that I was overestimating my workout…

    Thanks for any opinions on these three items :-)

    • Dana Angelo White says:

      Hi PattiNYC –
      The “weight loss” zone you’re referring to is because at lower levels of exercise intensity you use primarily fat as an energy source. Glad to hear your husband is doing so well. I would refer him to his cardiologist for info on what the best target HR range would be for him. Finally, calorie counts on exercise machines are famously inaccurate. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the best ways to calculate energy expenditure.

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  3. Informative post! Glad to be here and liked knowing about the heart rate monitors.

  4. The lifestyle and common diet we follow make us more prone to heart problems irrespective of our age and weight. I have seen many young fellows having less weight are suffering from heart problems. So it is safer to use a quality heart rate monitor. Regular monitoring your heart beat while exercising is a good and safe practice.

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  6. HCG says:

    Heart rate monitor is great invention as heart which is most important organ of our body has to monitor so that if anything seem not normal one can consult doctors and can find cure to his her problems

  7. im_pinoy says:

    Impressive invention! They should recommend this to all who are prone to heart attack and other related heart rate problems so they could at least lessen the rate of those people who are dying in heart attack and this could monitor the patients every time.

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