Target Heart Rate

Target heart rate … Why is it important, and how do I know if I’m getting there?

By:  Crystal Dixon, CNP

While performing physical activity you want to make sure you are pushing hard enough to get something out of it and see some results from all your hard work, but it is also important not to push yourself too hard, to avoid injury. The correct amount of intensity will help you get the most out of your exercise. According to The Department of Health and Human Services, healthy adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity over the course of a week. Examples of moderate aerobic activity would include, brisk walking, bicycling or swimming, while vigorous activity would be running or aerobic dancing.

So how do you know when you are in the “target zone”?

The target heart rate zone is the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned without being overworked. There are a couple of ways you can gauge this, if you are a numbers person, then calculating what your target heart should be might be best for you, if you don’t want to worry about numbers and monitoring your heart while you exercise, you can also simply listen to your body to determine your perceived exertion.

While performing moderate physical activity the rate of your breathing should increase, but you should not be out of breath and should still be able to carry on a conversation, you develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes.

During vigorous activity your breathing is more deep and rapid, you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath, but should still be able to talk, and you begin sweating after only a few minutes.

To calculate your target heart rate zone you need to know your maximum heart rate first, this is the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during exercise. Calculating this is simple, just subtract your age from 220, so if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate should be 180. You also need to know you resting heart rate, which you can determine by simply checking your pulse at rest, your resting heart rate should be between 60-100 beats per minute for the average healthy adult. Now you can determine your target heart rate zone based on the intensity of exercise you are aiming for.

For moderate exercise you should be at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, and 70-85% for vigorous exercise. If you are not fit or just beginning an exercise regimen you may want to begin with moderate exercise and aim for 50% of your maximum heart rate and work your way up.

To calculate your target heart rate zone for moderate exercise, or 50-70% of maximum heart rate:

Establish your heart rate reserve by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.

Multiple your heart rate reserve by 0.5 (50%) and add your resting heart rate to the number.

Multiple your heart rate reserve by 0.7 (70%) and add your resting heart rate.

Now you have the upper and lower limits of your target heart rate zone for moderate physical activity.


Age 40

Maximum heart rate (HR) = 180 (220 – 40 (age) = 180)

Resting heart rate = 70 (found by checking pulse at rest)

Heart rate reserve (HRR) = 110

(180 (maximum hear rate) – 70 (resting heart rate) = 110

Lower limit = 125 (110 (HRR) x 0.5 (50% max) + 70 (resting HR) = 125)

Upper limit = 147 (110 (HRR) x0.7 (70% max) + 70 (resting HR) = 147)


2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary. (2008). Retrieved from

Exercise intensity: How to measure it. (2016, September 3). Retrieved April 19, 2017, from

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