Raising your heart rate during exercise provides a variety of short- and long-term health and fitness benefits. Many organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, recommend physical activities that improve cardiovascular function for achieving goals like weight loss and lowering cholesterol levels.
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Exercising at increasingly higher heart rates results in different physiological benefits and improved health.
Heart Rate Zones
Raising your heart rate to just 50 percent of your maximum heart rate — 220 minus your age — is a good start, says the American Heart Association. If you're not quite ready to participate in high-heart-rate workouts such as aerobic exercise — which requires a higher intensity of work, staying within 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate and greater cardio-respiratory fitness — you can still burn fat by walking briskly.
Or if you're not much of a walker you can start with activities such as cycling, swimming or skating, all of which can be done gently and without breaking much of a sweat. Exercising at a lower intensity burns fewer calories, but more of those calories come from fat.
Read more: What Is a Good Exercise Heart Rate?
How Weight Loss Happens
Exercise requires your body to produce energy to perform the muscle movements you are doing. That energy is produced by burning calories, which can come from fat or glycogen (how your body stores carbohydrates). The higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn above the total you get from what you eat each day, the more weight you will lose or keep off.
Improve Your Stamina
Increased heart rates during exercise help you improve your stamina. Stamina often is referred to as your "energy level" and is a measurement of how long you can perform an activity, as opposed to how fast or how intensely you can do it.
Each time you exercise, you improve V02 max, a measurement of your maximum aerobic capacity, according to the American Council on Exercise. Once you reach V02 Max, you can continue to increase your exercise intensity without increasing your need for oxygen.
Rest for Improved Recovery
When you do anaerobic exercises, or high-intensity activity done for short periods, you must perform repeated repetitions of your activity, with rests in between, to strengthen your heart. Each of these rest periods allows your body a chance to recover and repair itself, making you stronger.
Activities such as tennis, basketball and sprinting are examples of anaerobic activities. The most fit tennis players are not the ones who can last the longest during a 20-second point — they are the ones who can recover the most by the time play resumes for the next point.
Read more: Cardio Heart-Rate Zones
Higher Heart Rate Benefits
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends getting 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderately intense cardio, not just to fight the battle of the bulge, but for a myriad of other health benefits. Aerobic or cardio exercise helps fight cholesterol.
In addition to diet, aerobic exercise can help raise your "good" cholesterol (high-density lipids) level and lower your bad cholesterol (low-density lipids). Aerobic exercise improves your immune system, which helps you resist infections such as colds and viruses.
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical"
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- Health.gov: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 4. Active Adults”
- American Council on Exercise: "What Is the Difference Between VT1, VT2 and VO2 Max?"
- Build Muscle & Burn Fat: Weight Loss--Lose Belly Fat Fast