The type of exercise I recommend for most people’s health is aerobic exercise. This means keeping your exercise at a level that uses more oxygen than at rest, but without getting “winded.” For most people, especially those just beginning to workout, your primary exercise should be guided by your heart rate.
There are many people these days who are exercising intermittently at intense levels. The studies upon which these recommendations have been based are usually performed on a rather fit group or youthful group of people. High intensity, elevated heart rate exercise, is fine for some people, especially if there is a good “aerobic base” when the person starts the high intensity workouts.
Unfortunately, in some middle aged and older people, we have encountered a two-phase response to high intensity exercise. First there is excitement by the observable changes that are taking place. These folks become “converts” to the high intensity exercise regime. Second, there is an injury or an illness that ensues (usually after 6 months to a year of high intensity workouts) and recovery is difficult at best, or the problem becomes chronic at worst.
High intensity, high heart rate exercise may be beneficial to you if you have a good “aerobic base” and if you include some pure aerobic exercise in your exercise regime. But don’t ignore true aerobic exercise at least 2-3 times a week, keeping your heart rate below your maximum aerobic heart rate (see below) for the entire exercise period, as a base for whatever else you do.
My colleagues and I have found the following five rules to be the most appropriate for determining the maximum aerobic heart rate:
- 180 minus your age = maximum aerobic heart rate
- Add 5 heartbeats per minute if you have been training for some time
- Subtract 5 heartbeats per minute if you are recovering from injury or sickness
- Subtract 5 heartbeats per minute if you are just starting to exercise
- Subtract 5 heartbeats per minute if you are taking any medications, especially heart medications
If you keep your heart rate during exercise between your maximum aerobic heart rate and 10 points below this number, you will be creating the optimum fat burning and health building environment and you will be less prone to pain or injury.
For example, if you are 40, and are just starting to exercise, your maximum aerobic heart rate would be 180–40 –5 = 135. You should exercise with your heart rate between 125 and 135.
If you are 55 and have been exercising for some time, your maximum aerobic heart rate would be 180–55 + 5 = 130. You should exercise with your heart rate between 120 and 130.