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Is a Heart Rate of 170 Too High for Running?

author image Michelle Kulas
Michelle Kulas worked in the health-care field for 10 years, serving as a certified nurses' assistant, dental assistant and dental insurance billing coordinator. Her areas of expertise include health and dental topics, parenting, nutrition, homeschooling and travel.
Is a Heart Rate of 170 Too High for Running?
Stay within your target heart rate range while you run. Photo Credit jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

Running is known as a vigorous-intensity heart rate that raises your heart rate. After all, that's why it works so well at building stamina, developing cardiovascular power and burning calories.

When you run, staying in your target heart rate range can help ensure that you are working hard enough to see results, but not working so hard that you are at risk for injury. Your optimal target heart rate depends on your age and how fit you are.A heart rate of 170 isn't necessarily too high -- it depends on your physiology and fitness level.

Factors that Affect Heart Rate

Whether your heart is beating too fast when you exercise depends a lot on you. Younger, more fit people often have a higher heart rate threshold -- the number to which they can push and still perform safely. Your genetics also determine heart rate; just like some people are taller or have red hair, some people are genetically disposed to have a heart that beats faster during exercise.

So, for you, a heart rate of 170 while running may be right on target.

Figuring Out Your Target Heart Rate

You can figure out an estimate of your target heart rate for exercise by knowing your theoretical maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is the number of beats per minute your heart can handle when working at an all-out intensity. Several formulas can be used to calculate your theoretical maximum heart rate.

One way is to take your age and subtract it from 220. This number gives you the average maximum heart rate for individuals in your age group, according to the American Heart Association.

Keep in mind that this calculation has a wide margin of error. If you are 40 years old, for example, the average maximum heart rate for your age group is roughly 180 beat per minute. Your target heart rate zone is between 50 and 85 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate -- for this example, that's between 90 and 153 beats per minute.

If you've been sedentary or are otherwise out of shape, your goal should be closer to 50 percent -- if you are an athlete, it might be closer to 85 percent. But, in this example, a heart rate of 170 would be much too high.

Feel It

Since quickie heart rate formulas tend to be general and under, or over, estimate your abilities, determine whether you are working at an appropriate level by gauging how comfortable you are while you run.

If you can speak a sentence or two -- or sing a verse of a song -- you're probably within your target heart rate range. If you can't speak at all, slow down because you may be working too hard.

Consider Safety First

If you are taking medication for high blood pressure, you may have a lower target heart rate range than you would if you weren't on the medication. The only way to find out your true maximum heart rate and the most accurate target zone is to have a test done by a medical professional or at a fitness facility by a qualified trainer.

If you have any medical problems at all, you should talk to your physician before beginning any exercise program. Other reasons to ask your doctor before running include being overweight or obese and being over the age of 40. Since running is a high impact sport, seek medical advice if you have had trouble with your knees or other joints.

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