Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and is important for staying healthy and improving cardiovascular health. But what if your heart rate goes over 200 beats per minute? We talked to cardiologists to explain what your heart rate should be when exercising — and what to do if it gets too high.
If your heart rate goes above 200 beats per minute (bpm) while exercising, it often means you should slow down or stop exercising. However, there are other factors to consider.
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"The amount of exercise and the response to exercise is often due to many factors, including things such as weight, age, and medical conditions," says Nilay Mehta, DO, a cardiologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas. "During exercise, your heart rate and blood pressure go up and this is normal. However, your blood pressure and heart rate should be tolerated by you and your body."
If your exercise isn't intense enough, your heart rate stays too low to be beneficial. If it goes too high, it can be dangerous. This is why it is important to know your target heart rate and maximum heart rate.
Finding Your Target and Maximum Heart Rate
To determine if 200 bpm is too high for you while exercising, you must first determine your maximum heart rate. "Maximal predicted heart rate is age-related," explains cardiologist Ryan Gindi, MD, senior staff physician with Henry Ford Health's Heart & Vascular Service Line. "You can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220."
"For a young individual 20 years of age or younger, exercising at a high intensity, a heart rate of 200 bpm may be appropriate (220 - 20 = 200)," he says.
For someone that is 45 years old, that formula gives us a number of 175 (220 - 45 = 175), which means that a heart rate of 200 bmp while exercising is considered too high.
Keep in mind that this formula is just an estimate of your maximum heart rate. The most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate is with a treadmill stress test at your doctor's office. Research has shed some light on how to better estimate your maximum heart rate, taking into account your age and sex.
- 220 - age: Traditional method of determining HRmax (called the Fox Formula)
- 206 - (0.88 x your age): A more precise method for women to determine HRmax (Gulati Formula)
- 206.9 - (0.67 x your age): A more precise method for adults over the age of 40 to determine HRmax (Tanaka Formula)
Now that you know your maximum heart rate, you can figure out your target heart rate. "In general, a safe moderate-intensity heart rate with exercise is approximately 65 to 75 percent of your max," says Dr. Gindi. "For high-intensity exercise, you should exercise to roughly 75 to 90 percent of your max."
"For someone new to exercise, I recommend starting with moderate-intensity exercise 150 to 300 minutes per week," says Dr. Gindi. This comes to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise five days per week. Examples of this type of exercise are brisk walking, water aerobics, biking (less than 10mph), or tennis doubles, according to the AHA.
"Over time and with guidance, exercise can safely progress to more high-intensity 75 to 150 minutes per week," he says. This means 15 to 30 minutes of higher-intensity exercise five days per week. Examples of high-intensity exercise include running, hiking uphill, tennis singles or swimming laps.
"For individuals with cardiovascular risk factors, an exercise stress test can be considered before beginning high-intensity exercise. Anytime there is exercise-induced chest discomfort, unusual shortness of breath, or a sudden decrease in exercise tolerance, you should be evaluated by your doctor," says Dr. Gindi.
Should You Stop Exercising if Your Heart Rate Is Above 200?
If your heart rate goes above 200 bpm while exercising, you need to first determine if it is appropriate for your age — and if you are experiencing any symptoms. If you are 20 or younger, then it is within the general guidelines for your maximum heart rate and should be fine, as long as you aren't having any symptoms.
"A heart rate above 200 can or cannot be dangerous," says Dr. Mehta. "A heart rate above 200 when exercising can occur, but if it's tolerated (such as no shortness of breath or chest pain), it's OK to sustain it for a short period of time."
"If the heart rate jumps to 200 almost immediately and you're feeling symptoms, it's advisable to stop exercising and discuss it further with your physician or cardiologist," he says. "This could be a sign of an irregular heart rhythm or it could be a problem with other serious conditions."
If you don't have coronary artery disease and are not at risk for a heart attack, Dr. Gindi says that exceeding your maximum heart rate is safe for short periods of time.
However, keep in mind you do run the risk of overtraining. "[This] can result in a decline in exercise performance or progress, stiffness or sore muscles, not feeling refreshed after exercise or injuries," he says. "For individuals at increased risk for a heart attack, adjust your training plan by lowering the intensity and increasing recovery time."
Warning Symptoms to Watch Out For
To determine if you should stop exercising or see a doctor, you need to be aware of how you feel while exercising and warming symptoms, says Abid Ali Fakhri, MD, a cardiologist at UM Baltimore Washington Heart Associates.
"It really comes down to if you are experiencing any warning symptoms. While there are charts that can help you understand what may be an acceptable maximum heart rate, these are based mostly on your age and may not take into consideration other health-related factors, such as how you eat and if you exercise regularly," Dr. Fakhri says. "If you have any questions about what may be a safe rate for you, talk to your doctor."
Fakhri says if you experience any of these exertion-related symptoms, stop exercising immediately:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
"These symptoms may be signs that you need to seek medical attention. If the symptoms do not resolve within 5 to 10 minutes, call a doctor and get medical help," he says.
When You Should See Your Doctor
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, including chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, decreased exercise tolerance or a heart rate that stays elevated even with rest, then you should see your doctor.
Dr. Gindi says to also be aware of sudden changes. "For example, if you have been exercising routinely at a moderate intensity with a heart rate between 125 and 135, and with the same exercise your heart rate is now 145 and 155, that could be a sign something is wrong," he says. "It is best in such a scenario to take a rest for a few days before returning to exercise, however, if you notice an elevated heart persists above normal training values, see a doctor."
"Even for a young individual, if the heart rate suddenly jumps to 200 bpm while at rest, that is a sign of arrhythmia," Dr. Gindi says. "For someone older, if the heart rate is over 200 bpm while exercising, this could be a sign of exercise-induced arrhythmias and you should be evaluated by a cardiologist."
Your resting heart rate can also give you clues about your heart health. "Resting heart rate should be between 60 to 100," Dr. Mehta says. "While resting, if your heart rate is above these values then you may need to see a cardiologist. If your heart rate is below 60 and you're feeling dizzy or having difficulty achieving your day-to-day activities, then you may need to see a cardiologist quickly."
Best Ways to Monitor Heart Rate
"Wearable devices are an excellent way of monitoring heart rate during exercise and tracking progress," Dr. Gindi says. "There are a variety of devices now available, ranging from chest-band devices that measure heart rate directly, or wrist and forearm monitors that measure pulse."
A 2023 study in the European Journal of Sport Science researched the accuracy of three devices in measuring heart rate and energy expenditure. They found the Apple Watch 6 was the most accurate for measuring heart rate, while the Fitbit Sense and Polar Vantage V were not as accurate, and showed variable results depending on the activity that was being performed.
A 2019 study in Cardiovascular Diagnosis & Therapy looked at a chest strap monitor, along with four brands of fitness tracker watches. They found that the chest strap (the Polar H7 chest strap) monitor was the most accurate for heart rate, followed by the Apple Watch.
"There are also smart rings that are very accurate at measuring resting heart rate, however, more research needs to be done to show if they are accurate during exercise," Dr. Gindi says. A January 2022 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at the Oura smart ring, and showed it was accurate in measuring heart rate at night, however, did not study its accuracy during exercise.
Not a fan of technology? Dr. Fakhri says that although heart rate monitors are useful, he prefers to rely on how you are feeling by using the rate of perceived exertion to gauge exercise intensity.
"While heart rate monitors can be useful, the device may not be able to detect everything and may have a hard time distinguishing some movements," he says "Similarly, heart rates may vary from person to person based on factors such as age and whether they exercise regularly."
The CDC uses the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, with you rating how hard you are exercising on a scale of 6 to 20, with 6 being "no exertion at all" and 20 as "maximal effort." This is based on physical sensations during exercise.
If you are breathing harder than normal, but can still talk, then this is moderate effort or somewhere between a 12 to 14 on the scale. If you are sweating and can't talk without getting out of breath, then that is considered a vigorous level of exercise, or 15 and above on the RPE scale.
A heart rate over 200 bpm while exercising can be concerning if it falls above your maximum heart rate and you are also showing symptoms including chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or heart palpitations.
If you are not showing symptoms and have a healthy heart, it is fine to continue exercising for a short period of time above your maximum heart rate, however, keep in mind you run the risk of overtraining. If you are showing these symptoms regardless of heart rate, you should stop exercising and seek medical care.
In general, it is best to exercise within your target heart rate zone.
- American Heart Association: "Target Heart Rates Chart"
- American Heart Association: "American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids"
- European Journal of Sport Science: "Wrist-Worn Devices for the Measurement of Heart Rate and Energy Expenditure: A Validation Study for the Apple Watch 6, Polar Vantage v and Fitbit Sense"
- Cardiovascular Diagnosis & Therapy: "Accuracy of Commercially Available Heart Rate Monitors in Athletes: A Prospective Study
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale)"
- Dignity Health: How to Determine Your Max Heart Rate
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Age-Predicted Maximal Heart Rate Revisited"