Should You Track Your Heart Rate When You Exercise? An Expert Weighs In

Written by Elizabeth Gerson
Elizabeth Gerson is a former mindbodygreen intern and a student at Stanford University studying Psychology and Communication with a specialization in Health & Development.

Image by Dean Mitchell / Getty

Nowadays, it can sometimes feel like there are a million different things to keep track of when it comes to getting fit. Thanks to newfangled tech like the updated Apple Watch or the Fitbit, we have all sorts of stats at our fingertips (or, more accurately, our wrists). We can note calories burned, miles run, and steps taken, but how much should we be paying attention to our heart rate when trying to get in a good workout?

We consulted Joel Kahn, M.D. and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity, to give us some insights into whether or not keeping track of our heart rate is worth it—and if it can help take our workouts to the next level.

For starters, measuring the effectiveness of your heart rate without technology is easier than you think: "You can gauge the intensity of exercise by your ability to carry on a conversation," Kahn told mbg. "If it is easy to talk, you might not be pushing enough. If you can barely talk, it may be too much. The sweet spot is in between."

If you're wondering whether or not you should track your heart rate, it's worth noting that the cardio king himself doesn't wear a monitor when he works out. The accuracy of heart-rate monitors can actually be sketchy, Kahn says, as sweat and movement can affect the readings. As far as monitors attached to cardio machines go, they can be a bit awkward to use and still get a good workout—seriously, who actually holds onto the treadmill heart rate monitors when they're running?

For those who are actually interested in their heart rate, Kahn has a simple formula to follow: 220 minus your age will give you your peak heart rate for a workout. If you're going for moderate intensity, 85 percent of this "predicted peak heart rate" is a reasonable goal, according to Kahn. For HIIT workouts, you should strive to hit peak heart rate for short bursts and bring it back down in recovery.

In terms of Kahn's favorite way to keep overall health in check, his advice is simple: Keep moving. Rotating HIIT, flexibility, balance, and strength training throughout your exercise routine will keep your body guessing and never leave you bored in the gym.

Sure, heart rate can be a cool new stat to check out when you're at the gym or on your morning walk, but the verdict is that it's not totally necessary to keep track of. Keeping your heart healthy depends on so much more than just a number. Improving heart health can begin with many other surprising practices—like yoga, your diet, or even acupuncture. No matter your activity of choice, keeping your heart happy will preserve your health for a long future.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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