How can I measure my heart rate and exercise intensity?

1) Dear Alice,

I work out on my treadmill 20 to 30 minutes a day, usually one to two miles. My husband says that there is a minimum and maximum heart rate. Is there a formula that I can use to calculate this information? Please advise.

2) Dear Alice,

Is there an equation that would relate the relationship between exercise and heart rate. I understand the maximum and minimum heart rate equations for exercising. I would like to know if someone who is at their max. heart rate would be able to predict their heart rate if they increased their intensity. I am looking for something relating work intensity to heart rate.

Thank you very much for your time.


Dear Reader and Joseph, 

Yes, there are indeed recommendations for minimum and maximum heart rate during physical activity. Based on the minimum and maximum you can also determine what your goal or target heart rate given the intensity of exercise an. There are multiple approaches to calculating your age-specific heart rate, so read on for more information! 

Before learning how to calculate minimum and maximum heart rate, it may be helpful to understand what these numbers mean. Maximum heart rate (Max HR) is an estimate of the heart rate (measured in beats per minute) that someone might reach during maximum physical exertion. Minimum heart rate (Min HR), or resting heart rate, is the heart rate measured at rest. The average resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm), depending on factors such as age, fitness level, medications, medical conditions, and more. The minimum heart rate can be calculated by how many times your heart beats each minute during rest. Additionally, individuals who engage in regular physical activity can have a lower resting heart rate, since their heart muscles are in better condition and operate more efficiently. 

Maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 22 years old, the calculation would be 220-22 = 198 bpm. Therefore, the general maximum heart rate for a 22-year-old is 198 bpm. 

  • 220 - AGE = Max HR 

Another, more specific, way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract the total from 208. For example, if you’re 22 years old, the calculation would be 208 - (22 x 0.7) = 192.6 bpm. 

  • 208 - (AGE x 0.7 = Max HR) 

While these two approaches produce slightly different values, they offer a similar estimate. 

For moderate intensity physical activity, it’s generally recommended that your heart rate stays between 64 to 76 percent of your maximum heart rate. Therefore, for a 22-year-old with a maximum heart rate of 192.6 bpm, the calculation would be (192.6 x 0.64) = 123.3 bpm and (192.6 x 0.76) = 146.4 bpm. 

  • Max HR x 0.64 = Lower range HR 
  • Max HR x 0.76 = Upper range HR 

For vigorous intensity physical activity, it’s generally recommended that your heart rate stays between 77 to 93 percent of your maximum heart rate. Therefore, for a 22-year-old with a maximum heart rate of 192.6 bpm, the calculation would be (192.6 x 0.77) = 148.3 bpm and (192.6 x 0.93) = 179.1 bpm. 

  • Max HR x 0.77 = Lower range HR 
  • Max HR x 0.93 = Upper range HR 

If you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor or not able to measure it, you can estimate your intensity based on your ability to talk or sing. Moderate exercise intensity can be categorized by quickened breathing (you can talk but you can’t sing) and lightly sweating after about ten minutes of physical activity. Vigorous exercise intensity is characterized by deep and rapid breathing, sweating after a few minutes, and not being able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. The higher the exercise intensity, the higher your heart rate will likely be. 

Your target heart rate can be measured using the heart rate reserve (HRR) method, calculated by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. For example, if your minimum heart rate is 70 bpm and your maximum heart rate is 192.6 bpm, your target heart rate can be calculated as 192.6 - 70 = 122.6 bpm. 

  • Max HR - Min HR = Target HR 

If you’re starting out on your fitness journey, you might consider aiming for the lower end of your target heart rate zone and working your way up in intensity to prevent overexertion or injury. Symptoms of overexertion might include shortness of breath, pain, or dizziness. Being mindful of your heart rate can also help you to realize when the physical activity becomes too much. 

To track your heart rate while exercising: 

  1. Briefly pause your exercise to improve the accuracy of your measurement. 
  2. Place your index and middle finger over the carotid artery on your neck or chest, or the radial artery on your wrist. Your radial artery can be easier to find and provide more accurate results. 
  3. After locating a pulse, count your heartbeats for a full 60 seconds starting with zero or for 30 seconds and multiply the value by two. 

Instead of manually tracking your heart rate, you might also consider using a heart rate monitor. Generally, there’s little to no difference between manual and monitor measurements, or between heart rate and pulse values aside from the simplicity of allowing a device to do it for you. 

Joseph, you mentioned wanting to know how to predict heart rate and increase intensity for someone who’s already at their maximum heart rate. The maximum heart rate is a value that’s recommended for you not to exceed. Consistently reaching your maximum heart rate could put your body at risk for cardiovascular complications and other serious medical concerns. Additionally, reaching your maximum heart rate may be an indicator that you’re overexerting yourself, which might be a sign for you to reduce the intensity of your workout. Therefore, it may be helpful to reflect on your goals for exercising and understand why you might want to increase the intensity of your workout when you’re already at your maximum heart rate. Are you exercising to improve cardiovascular health, strength, or overall fitness? How do you define ‘work intensity’? It’s worth noting that work, whether career or physical fitness, can be stressful or emotional and causes the body to release adrenaline, which increases heart rate.  Ultimately, if you’re feeling pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath, it’s recommended that you stop and rest or at the very least decrease the intensity of whatever sort of activity you’re engaged in when possible. 

All this to say, while there are general recommendations for minimum and maximum heart rate, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to variation in heart rate including medications, fitness level, medical conditions, body temperature, environmental conditions (such as temperature and humidity), body size, hydration levels, genetics, and more. For a more accurate range of heart rate values based on your specific characteristics and situations, you might consider speaking with a health care provider. They can also provide you with further resources or information on overall heart health and exercise guidelines. 

Hope this heart-to-heart was helpful! 

Last updated Feb 16, 2024
Originally published Mar 01, 1996

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