Checking your heart rate after walking just one mile may not seem to be very useful. But it can provide useful information, for both the new exerciser and for the recreational athlete. If you are just starting an exercise program, particularly a walk program, it can indicate if you are exercising efficiently. For the athlete, it can provide a measurement of aerobic capacity, called VO2 max, which traditionally has required an expensive laboratory test.
Walking Heart Rate and Aerobic Exercise
For cardiovascular fitness, it is best to exercise at around 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate, and is frequently called the aerobic zone. This is also the best intensity level for losing weight. For new exercisers who have been sedentary, a low-intensity program like walking is often recommended. Even in a walking workout, reaching the 60 to 80 percent maximum heart rate range is important.
Calculating Maximum Heart Rate
A number of different calculations and tests can be help you determine your maximum heart rate. You've probably heard of the 220-age formula. Unfortunately, research has shown that this calculation can be off by 10 to 20 beats per minute for over half the population, and off by more than that for one-third of those who use it. Author and former collegiate champion John L. Parker, Jr. recommends using 205 minus one-half your age and adding five beats for women and long-time runners.
Regardless of how the maximum heart rate is calculated, simply multiply by 0.6 and 0.8 to find the target heart rate zone for exercise. For example, Mary is 42 years old and starting her walking program. Using Parker's formula, her maximum heart rate would be 205 – (42 X 0.5) = 184 + 5 (for being female) = 189 beats per minute. Her training heart rate range would be 189 X 0.6 and 189 X 0.8, or 113 to 152 beats per minute. If her heart rate after walking 1 mile is in that range, she's exercising at the best intensity.
Walking Heart Rate and the Talk Test
There is a way to validate the aerobic zone and whether the heart rate shown on your heart rate monitor is in that zone. It's called the Talk Test. It is a subjective test, and is based on the ability to breathe comfortably and rhythmically throughout the entire workout. You should be able to carry on a conversation with someone while exercising, without having to stop and catch your breath. If you can do that, then you're in the aerobic zone.
Walking Heart Rate and VO2 Max
VO2 max is another indicator of physical fitness. It is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exertion. It's considered by many who study exercise science to be the most valid measurement of cardiovascular fitness, and VO2 max can be increased through aerobic training.
VO2 max can be determined by a 1-mile walk test, using your heart rate at the end of the walk. This is often called the Rockport Walk Test. You'll need a flat, measured 1-mile course, such as a track, and a heart rate monitor. Walk 1 mile as fast as possible, and measure your heart rate immediately upon finishing. Record the time it took to complete the walk. Using one of the fitness calculators online, such as those at ExRx.net or Why I Exercise, enter your weight, age, sex, heart rate and time for the walk. The calculator will then determine your VO2 max. You can compare this number to your age group to determine level of fitness.
- Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness; Scott K. Powers and Edward T. Howley
- ExRx.net: Rockport Walk Test
- Why I Exercise: Rockport Walking Test
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness; American Council on Exercise
- Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot; John L. Parker, Jr.
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael A. Clark et al.
- FitnessWave: Vo2 Sub Max Testing
- Top End Sports: VO2 max Norms
- ExRx.net: Aerobic Exercise Guidelines for Specific Goals
- TriCoach: Using Heart Rate Training Zones
- Top End Sports: VO2max Archive
- Healthy Workers: The Normal VO2max Values
- Core Performance: So What Exactly is VO2?
- The Walking Site: Your Best Training Tool – Target Heart Rate