Of all the running statistics out there, you may be surprised to know that over half of active adults say that running is their outdoor exercise of choice.
And whether you're experienced or a beginner, tracking your average heart rate while running is an effective way to gauge your intensity or effort and adjust accordingly — either by speeding up or slowing down.
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Though the average heart rate while running will vary from person to person — usually fluctuating between 80 and 170 BPM(beats per minute), per the American Heart Association (AHA) — you can find your average heart rate while running by calculating your target heart rate.
This is especially important for the running novice who tends to run too hard too soon, resulting in a heart rate increase beyond the recommended range and poor results physically and motivation-wise. On the other hand, not pushing yourself hard enough won't get you the results you're looking for.
First, Why Does Heart Rate Increase During Exercise?
Your heart rate increases during exercise to help pump blood and oxygen to your muscles more quickly and efficiently, per Beth Israel Lahey Health. In general, the more intensely you're exercising, the higher your heart rate will be, because your muscles need that much more blood and oxygen to keep up.
This means your heart will pump faster and harder when you perform cardiovascular exercise, like running. This is why the average resting heart rate (60 to 100 BPM) is lower than the average running heart rate (80 to 170 BPM).
What Affects Your Average Running Heart Rate?
The two factors that most affect your running heart rate are your fitness level and your intensity. In general, the more physically fit you are, the lower your heart rate will be while running. Also, running faster (i.e. with more effort or intensity) will typically increase your heart rate because your heart has to work harder to supply your muscles with enough blood and oxygen.
Other factors that can influence your average heart rate while running include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Caffeine and/or alcohol intake
- Medical conditions
- Weather: heat, humidity and high altitude can increase heart rate
- Medications: beta blockers and thyroid medications can slow your heart rate
How to Calculate Your Ideal Running Heart Rate
To help determine what an ideal or target running heart rate is for you, you'll first need to know your maximum heart rate, which is based on your age. You'll then plug that number into a formula to calculate your target heart rate while running, which should be somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of your max heart rate, depending on your goals, according to the AHA.
1. First, Calculate Your Max Heart Rate
Your max heart rate (MHR) is an age-related estimation of the highest number of BPM your heart can pump in one minute during maximal activity. It's a useful number to know, because your target heart rate during activity will be a percentage of that number.
To calculate your max heart rate (i.e. heart rate zones by age), subtract your age from 220. According to the AHA, that would look like the following:
Maximum Heart Rate by Age
Max. Heart Rate (BPM)
Keep in mind, though, that this is just a template. Your heart rate may fluctuate anywhere from 15 to 20 BPM in either direction, per the AHA.
It's also worth noting that the "220 minus age" formula is just an estimate. To get an accurate measure of your max heart rate during exercise, and therefore your target heart rate zone, you can undergo an exercise stress test. This will help keep you from dangerous heart rate zones during strenuous exercise, per the AHA.
In the past, you may have heard praise about maxing out your heart rate for long periods of time, but this is a running myth. In fact, if going above your maximum heart rate for too long causes you symptoms like nausea and chest pain, you should slow down.
Stop exercising or slow down your running speed if you begin to feel chest pain, discomfort, dizziness or arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), per the Mayo Clinic.
2. Use Your MHR to Calculate Your Target Heart Rate Zones for Running
You can use target heart rate zones in different ways depending on your goals. Your target heart rate for running will depend on whether you're aiming to exercise at a moderate or vigorous intensity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Moderate-intensity exercise: Heart rate should be 50 to 70 percent of MHR
- Vigorous-intensity exercise: Heart rate should be 70 to 85 percent of MHR
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults exercise at a moderate intensity for 150 to 300 minutes each week, or do vigorous-intensity exercise 75 to 150 minutes per week.
Very fit people and athletes may do high-intensity training above 85 percent of their MHR, per the University of Virginia, but it's not recommended for the average person. If you're just starting out, sticking to about 50 percent of your MHR is recommended, and then you can work up from there.
Average Heart Rate to Target While Running
Target HR for Moderate-Intensity Running (BPM)
Target HR for Vigorous-Intensity Running (BPM)
100 to 140
140 to 170
97 to 136
137 to 166
95 to 133
133 to 162
92 to 129
130 to 157
90 to 126
126 to 153
87 to 122
123 to 149
85 to 119
119 to 145
82 to 115
116 to 140
80 to 112
112 to 136
77 to 108
109 to 132
You can work at the lower end of the range or the higher end, depending on your goals for the day.
3. Alternatively, Use the Karvonen Formula
A second method, the Karvonen Formula, is similar to the traditional method above but instead uses your desired intensity range to determine your target running heart rate zone, per a December 2014 study in the International Journal of Automation and Computing.
To use this formula, you subtract your resting heart rate (RHR) from your max heart rate, multiply by your desired percentage of max heart rate and then add your resting heart rate. It looks like this:
(MHR - RHR) x %MHR + RHR = Target HR
Your RHR is your heart rate when you're at rest, like when you're lying in bed (awake) or sitting on the couch. To find it, place your finger on a pulse point (your wrist or the side of your neck, for example) and count how many times your heart beats in 15 seconds, then multiply by four to get your average beats per minute.
So, for example, if you're 43 years old with a resting heart rate of 70 and you want your average running heart rate to be in the moderate-intensity range (50 to 70 percent of your max heart rate, which is 177), the calculation would look like this:
- 177 - 70 = 107
- 107 x 0.5 = 53
- 53 + 70 = 123
- 107 x 0.7 = 75
- 75 + 70 = 145
In this case, your target heart rate zone is between 123 and 145 BPM.
How to Monitor Your Average Running Heart Rate
If you're wondering how to check your heart rate, there are a couple methods to choose from — fitness trackers or by hand.
Most fitness trackers and smart watches have a heart rate monitor built in. Many of them will also tell you what zone you are in while working out. When you set up your device, you were likely asked to enter your age, weight and sex. The technology uses this data to figure out your normal heart rate and target heart rate zones.
Alternatively, you can use your fingers and a stopwatch to calculate your heart rate during your run. To do this, place your index and middle fingers on your neck below your chin and next to your trachea. You can also find your pulse on your wrist directly below the thumb. Using a stopwatch, count your heart beats for 15 seconds, and then multiply by four.
Alternatively, Gauge Intensity Without Heart Rate
Your heart rate is one of the best ways to measure the intensity of your workout, but it's not the only way. Perceived exertion can also tell you how hard you're working, and all you need to do is observe yourself.
If you're able to comfortably hold a conversation while running, you're working towards the lower end of the heart rate zone. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you can have a conversation but you can't sing a song, you're exercising at a moderate intensity. If you're breathing very hard and rapidly and you find it hard to say more than a few words at a time, you are running at a vigorous intensity.
How to Lower Your Running Heart Rate
If you want a lower heart rate during your running workouts, you can try heart rate training. This approach uses your BPM as a guide for how fast you should run instead of your pace per mile.
Aim to keep your average heart rate between 50 and 70 percent of your MHR throughout your workout, and pepper in a few bursts of higher-intensity work that gets your heart rate up between 70 and 85 percent of your max.
Do this regularly (at least 150 minutes per week), and your average heart rate while running the same pace will decrease over time as you build cardio fitness.
The Bottom Line
Determining your "sweet spot" and then skillfully tweaking it to accomplish different running goals takes time and practice. Because everyone is different, only through running on a regular basis and monitoring your heart rate will you find the average that is right for you.
Each time you go out, focus on challenging yourself a little more to reach your target. On the other hand, if you're having an off day or you just want to go easy, you may pull back and work below your average heart rate. The most important thing is to enjoy your runs, keep improving and avoid injury.
1. What Is a Dangerously High Heart Rate?
Anything over 100 BPM when at rest is considered a high heart rate, also known as tachycardia, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Figuring out what's too high when exercising, though, is a little more individualized.
You can determine your maximum heart rate for exercising by subtracting your age from 220. Then, remain mindful to not go past this number too often, to avoid harmful effects like dizziness or chest pain.
2. Is 190 BPM Normal When Running?
A running heart rate of 190 BPM is too high for most people. This is considered the maximum heart rate for someone around 30 years old, but remember that you should aim for somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of your MHR on a run.
That said, is a heart rate of 180 too high during exercise? If you're sprinting for a few seconds, a heart rate like 180 or 190 is likely OK. But your heart rate after running a mile or any distance more than a sprint should be lower — again, somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of your MHR.
You'll know your heart rate is too high while running if you feel side effects like chest pain or dizziness. In that case, stop exercising immediately and seek medical help if your symptoms don't subside.
- Cleveland Clinic: Pulse & Heart Rate: Target Heart Rate
- Heart.org: Exercise Stress Test
- Topend Sports: Karvonen Formula
- CDC: Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate
- Heart.org: Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise intensity: How to measure it
- Mayo Clinic: What is the normal resting heart rate?
- Beth Israel Lahey Health: "How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart, and What are the Benefits?"
- AHA: "Target Heart Rates Chart"
- Mayo Clinic: "Tachycardia"
- Concept2: "Anaerobic Threshold"
- University of Virginia: "VO2 Max Testing"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What Your Heart Rate Is Telling You"
- Mayo Clinic: "What's a normal resting heart rate?"
- International Journal of Automation and Computing: "Selection of suitable maximum-heart-rate formulas for use with Karvonen formula to calculate exercise intensity"
- Colorado State University: "How to Target Heart Rate Zones"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"