If you take beta blockers, you likely have high blood pressure or some other risk factor for heart disease. Your doctor has probably told you that exercise is also beneficial for your condition. But what about beta blockers and exercise?
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Beta Blockers and Exercise
During exercise, your heart pumps harder and faster to deliver much-needed oxygen to your working muscles. This increases the amount of pressure your blood puts on the vessel walls.
Beta blockers limit how quickly your heart can beat to reduce the amount of pressure on your vessel walls. In addition, these medications open up the vessels to improve blood flow, as explained by the Mayo Clinic. As a result, your heart rate won't rise as high as it normally would when you're exercising.
Understanding Target Heart Rate
If you take beta blockers, your target heart rate will be lower than that of someone who does not take this medication. One way of measuring exercise intensity is with a target heart rate. This number is calculated using a percentage of your estimated maximum heart rate — determined by subtracting your age from 220.
This is a popular method for people who use wearable technology. However, beta blockers and target heart rate for monitoring exercise intensity aren't a good match, as mentioned in a May/June 2019 article published by ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal.
Because beta blockers lower your heart rate — both at rest and while exercising — there's a good chance you won't ever reach your target heart rate, despite increasing the intensity of your workout. You should talk to your doctor to find out what a good target heart rate is if you take beta blockers.
Consider Other Alternatives
The goods news is, there are other ways to measure exercise intensity without using your heart rate. One easy method is use of the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, as explained by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
This scale ranges from 6 to 20, and is used to assign a numeric value to the difficulty of your workout. The scale also includes descriptive words for each level of intensity. For example, a score of 6 equates to activities such as watching television, where exertion levels would be reported as "none."
A Borg Scale rating of perceived exertion 11 to 12 represents "fairly light" exertion levels. Activities in this category could include walking through a store. Your body is putting forth effort, but your breathing rate hasn't changed.
Exercising at a vigorous level, such as biking or swimming laps, reaches 15 to 16 on the Borg scale, with "hard" exertion levels. A rating of 19 to 20 represents very, very hard exertion and activities that can't be maintained for long — such as a sprint to the finish line.
Follow These Guidelines
If you don't want to complicate your workout, consider this advice from the American Heart Association — exercise to the point that it makes you tired, but don't work out so hard that you can't carry on a conversation.
As long as your doctor has cleared you to exercise, aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, as recommended by the Department of Health & Human Services. In addition, perform strengthening exercises that target all major muscle groups, at least twice per week.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Heart Association: "How Do Beta Blocker Drugs Affect Exercise?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Beta Blockers"
- ACSM's Heatlh & Fitness Journal: "Revisiting Heart Rate Target Zones Through the Lens of Wearable Technology"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion"
- Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"