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The Best Treadmill Speeds for Seniors

author image Erica Roberg Williams
Erica Roberg Williams is a health and fitness professional in California. She teaches people how to achieve a healthy lifestyle through exercise, nutrition and stress management. She understands we are all different and need to find our own balance. Her B.S. degree is in kinesiology with a minor in gerontology.
The Best Treadmill Speeds for Seniors
The Best Treadmill Speeds for Seniors Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

We walk every day, but most people do not realize how fast they are walking. Walking on a treadmill is no different than walking on the sidewalk, except that you can see what your speed is. Because it is a functional movement, meaning you do it every day, there is no age limit as to who can participate.

Comfort Zone

Treadmills can be intimidating, and finding your comfort zone is as easy as starting slow and getting used to and understanding how the machine works.

• Start with your feet straddling the treadmill belt.

• Press "Start." The belt will move slowly and will not go any faster until you tell it to.

• Hold the side railing and step onto the treadmill belt.

As you feel comfortable, you can increase the speed up one level at a time. You want to walk at a speed that you can still carry on a conversation and feel confident you will not fall off. Remember, the treadmill has a motor that will continue to move unless you stop it, so never stop walking until the belt comes to a complete stop. Also, it is only so long and wide, so holding onto the railing during your exercise session will make you feel more comfortable.


Now that you are comfortable with the treadmill, you need to determine how hard or fast you should walk. This is based on your target heart rate or rate of perceived exertion.

Target Heart Rate

Determining what speed you should be walking can be based on your target heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends you raise your heart rate to 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate to achieve health benefits. If your target heart rate is 115 beats per minute, and you achieve that at 3.0 mph, then that speed is perfect for you.

How do you configure your target heart rate?

220 - Age = Maximum heart rate (MHR)

Multiply your maximum heart rate by 50 percent and 85 percent to find your target heart rate (THR) range.

MHR * 0.50 = THR

MHR * 0.85 = THR

The 50 to 85 percent target heart rate range of a 65-year-old person is 78 to 132 beats per minute.

Rate of Perceived Exertion

The Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion, RPE, scale is another way to determine if you are challenging yourself on the treadmill or during any exercise activity. The scale works well if you are on a medication that lowers your heart rate or are unable to keep track of your heart rate.

When exercising, you need understand how your body feels at different intensities and rate it on the 6 to 20 scale--6 is no exertion, and 20 is unable to continue exercising. For example if you are walking at 3.0 miles per hour and feel like you are at RPE 4, you need to walk faster. On the other hand, if you feel like you are at RPE 19, you need to slow down.

6: No exertion at all


7.5: Extremely light


9: Very light


11: Light


13: Somewhat hard


15: Hard (heavy)


17: Very hard


19: Extremely hard

20: Maximal exertion

Walking With an Incline

If you are unable to walk faster, using the incline on the treadmill is a great way to increase your heart rate. Walking up a hill is harder than walking on a flat surface, making your heart beat faster and increasing your heart rate.

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