Relationship Between Heart Rate & Cardiovascular Fitness

Your heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats within one minute, is a good measure of both cardiovascular fitness and workout intensity. Most athletes know that measuring your resting heart rate along with one during activity will help you ensure that your workouts are effective, both in burning fat and developing your cardiovascular fitness. Other factors may influence your heart rate. These include activity level, emotions, fitness level, medications, size and body position..

A female jogger checks her pulse while looking at her watch. (Image: gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness refers to your body's ability to generate energy and deliver oxygen to working muscles. Regular aerobic activity, for example, walking, biking, jogging or aerobic dance, increases your cardiovascular endurance or fitness to allow you to work continuously for extended periods of time. It also strengthens your heart and lungs, making your muscles more efficient at using oxygen. The amount of blood pumped through your body at each heart beat is increased, which results in a lower resting heart rate and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

How to Check Your Heart Rate

To check your heart rate, you will need to measure the number of beats per minute of your heart based on your pulse. Using your index and middle finger, feel for your pulse either at the side of your windpipe or on your wrist between your bone and tendon on the same side as your thumb. Once you have found a steady pulse, count the number of beats you feel in 15 seconds and multiply this number by four to calculate the number of beats per minute.

Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate, or normal heart rate, is the number of beats per minute while your body is at rest. The normal rate ranges and rises with age, but is generally between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Lower resting heart rates indicate more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. In fact, an athlete's resting heart rate may even be as low as 40 beats per minute. Higher rates mean your heart may be working too hard. Unusually high heart rates, known as tachycardia, or unusually low heart rates, bradycardia, may also indicate an underlying problem for which you should see a physician.

Target Heart Rate

When working out, it's important to be certain that you're working hard enough to see results, but not so hard that you experience burn out or exhaustion. Your target heart rate is the number of beats per minute you should be aiming for when working out. You can monitor your heart rate periodically during your workout to ensure you're on track. It is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. General guidelines state that your maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age. From that, you can determine your target heart rate by calculating both 50 percent and 85 percent of your maximum.

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