Heart Rate Zone Training Improves Health and Fitness

May 28, 2024 by Jesse Zucker
Heart Rate Zone Training Improves Health and Fitness

WASHINGTON — When you go from being sedentary to active, remember to take it slowly. As your fitness improves, you can start challenging yourself to work at a higher intensity. One way to measure intensity, or how hard you are working, is by tracking your heart rate. You can get a heart rate monitor or use a wearable fitness tracker.

Here, we’ll give you a crash course on what your heart rate means, what the different “zones” entail, which types of exercises fit in each category and the health benefits of training your heart.

Heart Rate Zone Training

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. We’ll use some terms to explain heart rate zones.

  • Resting Heart Rate: How many times your heart rate beats per minute when you are at rest. The American Heart Association states that a normal range for adults is 60 to 100 BPM. A lower number is generally “better” because it means your heart doesn’t need to work hard at rest. Athletes often have a very low RHR, even 40 BPM.
  • Maximum Heart Rate: The MHR is the highest that your heart rate should get during exercise. You can get this number by subtracting your age from 220. For example, a 35-year-old’s MHR is 185 BPM. It is an estimate and not an exact science. Each individual’s heart rate varies based on other factors, including genetics, mental and physical health conditions, stress levels and caffeine intake. 
  • Target Heart Rate: Once you have your MHR, you can multiply it by different percentages to find out your THR for the different heart rate zones and measure how hard you should be working at varying levels of intensity.
  • Heart Rate Recovery: How quickly your heart rate can return from its highest point while you’re working out, back to its regular resting number. The faster it can recover, the healthier your heart generally is.

Heart Rate Zones

Let’s put it into practice. While you exercise, your heart rate reflects how hard you are working. Heart rate zones refer to different percentages of your MHR, so you can aim to reach the suggested level of intensity.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers the following guidelines for five heart rate zones:

Zone 1:

  • Intensity: Very Light
  • Percentage: Less than 57 percent of MHR
  • Good For: Warm-up, cool down, light activities
  • Exercise Examples: Leisurely walk, leisurely bike ride, slow yoga class, stretching

Zone 2:

  • Intensity: Light to Moderate.
  • Percentage: 57% to 73% of MHR.
  • Good For: Steady-state cardio exercise lasting 30 minutes or more. The AHA recommends adults get 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic exercise in this zone per week to improve heart health and prevent cardiovascular diseases.
  • Exercise Examples: Brisk walking, jogging, cycling less than 10 miles per hour, light yard work, playing with your kids

Zone 3:

  • Intensity: Vigorous.
  • Percentage: 64 to 76% of MHR.
  • Good For: Aerobic endurance exercise. Training to be faster at a sport falls into this category. You’re going pretty fast, but not as fast as possible and you would not be able to talk while doing it. As an alternative to zone 2, the AHA recommends 75 to 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week at this level for heart health benefits.
  • Exercise Examples: Long-distance running, cycling, or swimming, jumping rope, hiking uphill.

Zone 4:

  • Intensity: High.
  • Percentage: 77 to 95% of MHR
  • Good For: Anaerobic exercise, where you only stay at this level for short bursts of effort followed by brief rest periods. Most weightlifting and resistance training happens in this zone.
  • Exercise Examples: Tempo runs, weightlifting and high-intensity interval training.

Zone 5:

  • Intensity: Maximum.
  • Percentage: 96 to 100% of MHR.
  • Good For: This is as hard as you can work, known as an all-out effort and you typically only need to do it for a few seconds.
  • Exercise Examples: Sprinting, speed training and some types of HIIT.

Benefits of Heart Rate Zone Training

Why try it?

  • Improves Heart Health: Ensuring that you’re working hard enough to be at a moderate (zone 2) or vigorous intensity helps you reach the weekly recommendation to improve your cardiovascular health.
  • Improves Heart Rate Recovery: Working at higher heart rates and then recovering may help improve your HRR over time. Slower HRR is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
  • Lowers Resting Heart Rate: A higher RHR is associated with lower physical fitness and a higher risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Improves Aerobic Endurance: The longer you spend training in zone 2 or zone 3, the longer you’ll be able to endure exercising at that intensity. This can improve your aerobic endurance and VO2 max (how well your body can use oxygen), which are both tied into good cardiovascular health.

Can You Feel Your Heart Beat?

Taking a leisurely walk and doing a hard HIIT workout at the gym have different impacts on your heart rate and both can benefit your health. The more you train your heart to work efficiently while you exercise, the better it will work at rest and help prevent avoidable cardiac conditions. 

Our website content, services and products are for informational purposes only. The Well News does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have medical concerns or questions, discuss with your health care professional.

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