How would you determine a maximum heart rate for me? I am a woman, closing in on 64, moderately active. My exercise of choice is swimming. I was up to 1.5 K non-stop when tendonitis in the shoulder shut me down for a few months; I am now doing some lengths over 1 K and am working back up. I try to do this 3 times per week, if I can get enough sleep the night before, which is another ongoing problem. Now I know that there are all sorts of charts out there establishing what the max heart rate should be, but they start from the assumption that anyone using them is, well, average. Despite not being a regular fitness seeker, my resting heart rate is usually in the low 50s. As part of a physical examination that was done last fall, my doctor sent me off for an ECG; I won’t pretend to know the specific results, but my heart rate was recorded as 48; when I was just over 50, an assessment by a personal trainer also recorded my resting heart rate at 48. I was fortunate in being a competitive swimmer from the age of 7 to 16, which appears to have left me the legacy of an excellent cardio-vascular system (well, apart from my extremities, which tend to chill easily). So how does one calculate the max heart rate given this particular starting rate?
I am so pleased to have you ask this important question. You want to maximize your training methods to meet your goal, and using max heart rate protocols to do this is one of the best ways. However, if your goal is just to be healthy and feel good, measuring your heart rate it is not absolutely necessary. As long as you are progressing with your fitness plan by either going longer with ease, not feeling as tired, or having more energy throughout the day, I would just use the talk test (ie. the rate of perceived exertion) since by now you know how you feel when you are working hard and getting a great workout. But here is some information about Max HR, as requested.
Max HR Tests
There are a lot of ways to determine your Max HR and, of course, the least risky method is to have your physician supervise your test. If a physician does this task, you should also ask for a ventilatory threshold or anaerobic threshold test to be performed at the same time so you can have an accurate value for your anaerobic threshold heart rate as well (but more on this later). You can also take a supervised graded stress test (GSX) at a sports laboratory. You will need a physician’s referral for that test.
Many fitness testing facilities offer sub-maximal exercise tests that are designed to bring you to 75-85% of your age-determined Max HR. The usefulness of these SubMax tests is questionable. Besides comparing your results to tables that suggest how “fit” you are based on your chronological, not biological age, their basic value is in recording your current exercise workload and corresponding heart rate in hopes that you will re-test and see changes (again this might be helpful, but you’ll probably know whether or not you are getting fitter without it). The employees at some testing facilities will claim that they are taking you to your Max HR, but really they will only take you to your age-predicted Max HR (which is calculated using the formula: 220-age). This test is not what you want because it doesn’t give you your “true” Max HR, just the mathematical one. Make sure you know what the technicians are going to do in advance of the testing, or else request (maybe demand) a true Max HR test.
If you want an adequate test and exercise screening, invest in a Max HR test performed by an Exercise Test Technologist, certified by the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, at a qualified facility, such as the one at the University of Alberta. There is a broad range of fees and types of tests but the normal range for a Max HR test is $75-$150 (or less if you are a student). Add another $100-$300 for a blood workup and VO2max test. In many cases, your Canadian health insurance will cover some or all of these costs. By taking these tests, you will also be able to keep a record of your fitness levels and changes as you age. It’s advisable to re-take these tests every five years and compare the results over time. This practice is good, sound preventive medicine because it allows you to take responsibility for measuring and monitoring your aging process.
Yours in health, Fitbabe
Thank you so much, FitBabe!
If I had medical insurance, I would surely use it if I could to cover the testing which would accurately establish my max hr. Alas, I do not, and while I do have a pension from my former employers (something which, I gather, is going the way of the dodo bird), it is not so generous that I can afford that kind of investment in my health. So I will continue with my swimming (incorporating some high intensity lengths), walking the dogs, running with them while doing agility (and the younger one forces me to RUN, though the goal is to train them and handle them so that they are the ones doing most of the running) and going all out for brief intervals on the exercycle.
Deanna Harder: Fitness Leadership Diploma, CSEP-CPT (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology-Certified Personal Trainer), and Figure Competitor. She will be back on stage, competing in Figure, on June 1 2013.