Your heart rate (also known as your pulse) is a standard measurement of how many times your heart beats per minute, and increases or decreases depending on how hard you’re exerting yourself.
As such, keeping tabs on your heart rate (manually or with a heart rate monitor) is a great way to gauge intensity during different forms of exercise, such as walking.
When you know what’s normal and what’s not, you’ll be able to recognize when you need to increase your walking intensity — and when to back off.
What Is a Normal Heart Rate During Normal Activity?
Your heart rate will vary depending on your age, stress and anxiety levels, hormones, the type of activity you’re doing, and if you’re taking any medications that increase or decrease heart rate (ex. beta-blockers).
That said, one good heart rate number to know is your normal resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is how many times your heart beats per minute while you’re at rest.
For most men and women, 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) is normal, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
In general, having a lower resting heart rate is generally healthier. Higher resting heart rates (greater than 90 bpm) have been linked to poorer physical fitness, higher blood pressure, and higher body weight, according to a long-term study published in Heart.
To find your resting heart rate, press the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) lightly over the artery on the inside of your wrist, on the side of your thumb.
Count the beats of your pulse for 30 seconds. Then, multiply that number by two to get your total beats per minute.
For the best results, take this measurement first thing in the morning, before you get up and before you drink your morning cup of coffee, says the AHA.
Once you have a sense of your normal resting heart rate, expect this number to increase a bit as you start moving around.
What Should Your Heart Rate Be When Walking?
Your walking heart rate will go up or down depending on how quickly you’re moving. In general, however, walking is a low- to moderate-intensity activity.
You can gauge your intensity during any activity — including walking — according to target heart rate zones for moderate-intensity and high-intensity exercise.
If you’re exercising at a moderate intensity (i.e. walking or jogging), your heart rate will fall somewhere between 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, whereas vigorous exercise will fall somewhere between 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
To figure out your target heart rate zone while walking, you first need to determine your maximum heart rate, or the maximum number of times your heart beats per minute. The standard formula for calculating maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220.
To determine your target heart rate for various exercise intensities, take your maximum heart rate and multiply it by a percentage. For example, to figure out what 50 percent of your maximum heart rate equals, take your maximum heart and multiply it by 0.5.
You can do the math yourself, or you can check this heart rate chart from the AHA, which also offers target heart rate zones. If you’re 35 years old, for example, your average maximum heart rate is around 185 bpm, while your target heart rate zone during exercise (50 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate) is around 93 to 157 bpm.
However, these numbers are by no means definitive, so use them only as a general guide.
Wearable technology — such as heart rate monitors and fitness trackers — offer an easy way to track your heart rate during exercise. Otherwise, you’ll have to check your pulse manually while walking, which can be tricky.
What Is a Dangerously High Heart Rate During Exercise?
It’s good to know your maximum and target heart rate zone so you can recognize when your heart rate is getting too high during exercise.
Going near — or higher — than your maximum heart rate for prolonged periods of time can be dangerous, and cause you to feel dizzy, short of breath and even ill. You can also increase your risk for cardiac events.
In fact, research published in Canadian Medical Association Journal found that recreational hockey players who consistently exercised at or above their target and maximum heart rates increased their risk of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), chest pain and discomfort.
If you find you keep creeping close to or past your maximum heart rate during exercise, you should slow down — especially if you’re newer to exercise.