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The How, Why and Wherefore of Heart Rate Monitoring
We all have our reasons to exercise, loosing weight, looking good and feeling good are just a few, but how many of us consider the most important of them all, to improve the health of our hearts. Lets face it we all take our hearts for granted, yet this little muscle beats away on average at 70 beats a minute, that’s 36 million times a year, yet for most of that time we are totally unaware of its existence. Its only when something goes wrong do we appreciate its importance. So if you feel it’s significant to monitor your weight when on a diet, or look in a mirror at your muscle development after starting a weight-training programme, then monitoring your heart during exercise should be a top priority.

Fitness professionals now universally agree that the way to get the most from your workout is by monitoring your heart, whether you are trying to loose weight, improve general fitness, involved in high performance training or following a cardiac rehabilitation programme.

Unfortunately many people still believe that heart monitoring is only for the serious athlete, doctor or sports coach. This could not be further from the truth. In fact it is for everyone who wishes to improve their physical condition and the reality is that the less fit you are the more important heart monitoring is.

By monitoring your heart you can achieve two things, a safe workout and tangible proof of progress. It will make sure that the heart is not over stressed, which results in piece of mind and the elimination of the ill effects of doing too much to soon. You will see your fitness improve which is extremely motivating and help you stick with your programme, which in turn benefits you more. Monitoring your heart takes the guesswork out of your training programme.

How do you monitor your heart?
There are a number of ways to monitor your heart; some are more accurate than others.

The easiest way is by placing your fingers against your wrist or the carotid artery at the side of the neck. Unfortunately this is not easy while exercising and if you stop to take your pulse the heart is already slowing down resulting in an inaccurate reading.

Another method is a device called a pulse meter, often found on exercise equipment. The first is a clip on device that you wear on your ear lobe or finger. The clip contains a small photo electric cell and a light source. The light passes through the blood carrying capillaries that lie close to the skins surface. The blood flows through in waves and at each crest of the wave the light is cut off, this is picked up by the photoelectric cell and a wire to a meter transmits the ‘count’. The number of cut off’s in one-minute represents the beats per minute. They are convenient to use but if the wire moves you can loose the reading. If you workout in bright sunlight the photo-electric cell cannot distinguish between that and the clips light source and if your heart beats above 140 beats a minute it registers the blood flow as a continuous stream. The second type of pulse meter is a handgrip pulse meter. These work on the body’s electrical impulses. The disadvantage of these is that both hands have to hold onto the handgrips, therefore if you want to alter the equipment’s computer you loose the reading. There are two handgrip systems used on equipment, analogue which is around 80% accurate and digital which is around 95% accurate.

The final method and the most advanced and accurate device is a heart rate monitor. You wear a strap around your chest, which contains electrodes. These electrodes pick up the electrical impulses that the brain sends to the heart to tell it to beat then transmits this information by radio transmitter to a receiver. The receiver can take the form of a watch, which you wear on your wrist or a readout on an exercise machines computer. They are accurate too less than one beat per minute, there are no wires to interfere with your workout or effect the monitors reading.

So, how does it work?
Well the first stage is to work out your age related Maximum Heart Rate. ( Max HR ) and you do this by using this simple formula.
MEN 220 – AGE = Max HR
WOMEN 226 – AGE = Max HR

Now that you know your Max HR you can now work out your heart beat during exercise, or Training Zone as it is commonly known. This is a percentage of your Max HR . The percentage being determined by what it is you want to achieve. The following guide will help you.
NB The following times do not include warm up and cool downs.

Moderate Activity Zone
50 – 60% Max HR
30 – 60 minutes in this zone, 3 times a week.
This is the easiest intensity you can workout at and still improve your overall health. This pace feels so easy most people feel guilty. People just starting an exercise programme for the first time should begin by training in this programme.

Weight Management Zone
60 – 70% Max HR
20 – 45 minutes in this zone, 3 –5 times a week
This zone is often referred to as the ‘fat burning zone’ because the intensity of the exercise is moderate enough to make your body use its fats as the primary fuel source. The exercise still feels easy enough and it is the ideal zone for those who wish to loose weight and maintain a healthy appearance.

Aerobic Training Zone
70 – 85% Max HR
20 – 30 minutes in this zone, 3 –5 times a week.
This zone builds a healthy heart and develops lungpower, increasing aerobic endurance and improving cardiovascular fitness. It also constructs a base for more demanding workouts for competition. This zone is the zone for improving fitness. It is often the fastest pace we can maintain and still feel comfortable. Training regularly at this intensity will enable you to run up stairs or chase after that bus without getting out of breath. Probably the most important zone for total health benefits.

Competitive Training Zone
85 – 100% Max HR
2 – 5 minutes in this zone, 1 – 2 times a week.
Develops peak performance for competition. It increases the tolerance to the build up of lactic acid, the primary waste product of muscle when working out at this intensity. This zone is know as the anaerobic zone and is to be used only by the very fit, athletes and those training under supervision.

A Final Word
We all grow old but how we age is very much in our own hands. Many of the degenerative changes associated with getting old are actually caused by lack of use. Getting fat, slowing down, feeling weak, developing high blood pressure and heart disease can all be delayed and in some cases eradicated by a sensible exercise programme and a sensible exercise programme will mean monitoring your heart.

Your heart serves as a barometer for the rest of your body. It tells you how hard you are working, how fast you are using up energy, if you have been over training and even your state of emotion. It is the most important muscle in the human body, damage it and your life will never be the same again. Look after it and it will look after you.

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