For overall fitness, it pays to get your heart pumping. When you elevate your heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time, you reap the benefits of aerobic exercise, boost heart and lung health, and fight illnesses. If you’re trying to lose weight, aerobic exercise (also called cardio) can be your best friend.
Running at 6 mph - which really gets your heart rate up - burns about 445 calories in just half an hour for a 185-pound person. You still need to eat right, but you’ll shed fat much faster with aerobic activity than without it. The most accurate way to gauge cardio intensity is to monitor your heart rate as you work out. It sounds complicated, but the process is actually very simple. Start by finding your maximum heart rate, which is the number 220 minus your age. So at 40 years old, your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute, or bpm.
During moderate cardio, you want your heart rate at 50 to 70 percent of maximum. For a vigorous cardio workout, aim to reach 70 to 85 percent of maximum. So at 40 years old, you want a heart rate of 90 to 126 bpm for a moderate workout or 126 to 153 bpm for a vigorous workout.
Now you know the numbers, practice checking your heart rate by finding your pulse. Place two fingers on the carotid artery of your neck, which is next to your windpipe, or place your fingers on your wrist between the bone and tendon on the thumb side. Count your pulse for 15 seconds, then multiply that number times four to find your beats per minute. As excellent as aerobic exercise is for your health, it’s crucial to stick to an intensity that matches your current fitness level. If you haven’t been to the gym in years, start out on the lower end of moderate scale - and check with your doctor before starting a routine.
If you’re already fit, challenge yourself with vigorous cardio to keep making greater health gains. Your heart needs to get in shape as much as your muscles and bones. Don't over exert yourself if you're not ready.
The Bottom Line
With a good workout, your heart rate increases, your blood spreads more life-giving oxygen and nutrients to your body, and your heart and lungs eventually grow more powerful. All this activity is not just good for your body, it helps you lose weight and gives you added energy for any task or activity you want to tackle. Given the right considerations for your health and current fitness levels, challenging your heart rate through exercise is an essential tool to getting your entire body in shape - inside and out.
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