July 8, 2010 by Danielle
Today my friend sent me an interesting New York Times article about heart rate measurement that really got me thinking. As a college athlete I was always told that to get my maximum heart rate, I should just subtract my age from 220. Many of our workouts were focused on achieving certain levels of exertion based on heart rate, so getting this measurement right was pretty important.
The article reports on a study that is shedding new light on this method…at least when it comes to women. In the study, researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago collected maximum heart rate data from 5,437 healthy women, who range in age from 35 to 93. They found that the maximum heart rate number derived from the old “220-your age” calculation was off the mark for most of the study’s subjects. Using heart rate statistics from their sample pool, researchers derived a new calculation just for women, which is 206 minus 88 percent of your age.
The rest of the article goes on to talk about how this calculation might still leave women in a heart rate range that is too far above or below where they should be, which can still leave you frustrated during a workout. For example, using the old formulation, my maximum heart rate would be 196. With the new formula it would be around 185—a significantly lower number.
In the end, I think that Dr. Tim Church, an exercise researcher and director of preventative medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, gets it right. He states, “Everyone kind of has their own natural pace. If you like to work a little harder, then work harder. If you like to work less hard but a little longer, then do that. Find what works for you.” I found that doing some cardio workouts sans heart rate monitor worked best for me, as I didn’t come out of workouts feeling bad about myself if I wasn’t hitting certain numbers.
So bottom line: If hitting those numbers makes you work hard during a workout, then go for it. If they’re just stressing you out, don’t pay too much attention to them and listen to your body. Just make sure you’re giving it your all.
If you want to calculate your target heart rate based on the old formula use this nifty tool from MayoClinic.