Your heart rate (also known as your pulse) is a standard measurement of how many times your heart beats per minute, and it increases or decreases depending on how hard you're exerting yourself.
As such, keeping tabs on your walking heart rate (manually or with a heart rate monitor) is a great way to gauge your intensity during exercise.
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When you learn more about a normal heart rate and the heart rate zones, you'll be able to recognize when you need to increase your walking intensity — and when to back off.
What Is a Good Resting Heart Rate?
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 (beta-blockers, for example).
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 (think: sitting on the couch). This is different from your sleeping heart rate, which is typically lower (but can vary based on your sleeping habits).
For most people, 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 typically 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 June 2013 study 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 your heart rate 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.
- If you're exercising at a vigorous intensity, your heart rate will fall somewhere between 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
To figure out your target walking or even running heart rate zone, 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 subtracting your age from 220.
For example, a 50-year-old person's maximum heart rate would be 220 - 50 = 170 beats per minute (bpm).
How to Determine Your Target Heart Rate Range
To find the lower end of your target heart rate: Subtract your age from 220, and then multiply it by 0.50. For example, a 50-year-old person's would be 220 - 50 = 170 bpm x 0.50 = 85 bpm.
To find the higher end of your target heart rate: Subtract your age from 220, and then multiply it by 0.85. For example, a 50-year-old person's would be 220 - 50 = 170 bpm x 0.85 = 144.5 bpm
This person's target heart rate range while walking is between 85 and 144.5 bpm. With that in mind, it could be normal to have a heart rate of 120 or 130 when walking, depending on your age and how much you're exerting yourself.
You can do the math yourself, or you can check the heart rate chart below from the AHA, which also offers target heart rate zones. (Note: These numbers are by no means definitive, so use them only as a general guide.)
Safe Target and Maximum Heart Rates by Age
Target Heart Rate
Maximum Heart Rate
100 to 170 bpm
95 to 162 bpm
93 to 157 bpm
90 to 153 bpm
88 to 149 bpm
85 to 145 bpm
83 to 140 bpm
80 to 136 bpm
78 to 132 bpm
75 to 128 bpm
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.
When to Worry About Low Heart Rate
Slowed heart rate, also known as bradycardia, is when your heart beats less than 60 bpm. Bradycardia can be a serious problem if heart rate is too low and is accompanied by dizziness, shortness or breath or weakness. If you have chest pain, difficulty breathing or fainting, see your doctor as soon as possible or go to the nearest emergency room, per the Mayo Clinic.
What Is a Dangerously High Heart Rate 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. Any heart rate at or above 200 bpm while exercising is considered dangerous for most adults.
That's why 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.
While some studies suggest going higher than your maximum heart rate could increase risk for cardiac events, an August 2018 study in Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine found this is more likely to occur in people who already have underlying heart issues.
Ultimately, you'll know when you're nearing your maximum heart rate — you'll get tired quickly and slow down on your own. If you find you keep creeping close to or past your maximum heart rate during exercise, ease off a bit — especially if you're newer to exercise.
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing too high (tachycardia) or too low (bradycardia) of a resting heart rate, visit your doctor for a diagnosis and to learn about the treatment options, which may include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or anti-coagulants ("blood thinners"), depending on your condition.
You should also see your doctor if your elevated or low heart rate is accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting or chest pain.
If your resting heart rate is too high, your doctor may suggest other lifestyle changes to lower your heart rate, per the Cleveland Clinic, such as:
- Staying hydrated: Get between 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water per day, through drinking fluids or eating water-rich foods.
- Avoiding caffeine and nicotine
- Managing stress through activities like yoga and meditation
- Getting light exercise such as walking, cycling or Pilates
- Elevated resting heart rate, physical fitness and all-cause mortality: a 16-year follow-up in the Copenhagen Male Study
- Cardiovascular effects of strenuous exercise in adult recreational hockey: the Hockey Heart Study
- Heart: "Elevated resting heart rate, physical fitness and all-cause mortality: a 16-year follow-up in the Copenhagen Male Study"
- Mayo Clinic: "Bradycardia"
- Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine: "The “Extreme Exercise Hypothesis”: Recent Findings and Cardiovascular Health Implications"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How to Lower Your Heart Rate"
- Bozeman Science: The Circulatory System
- American Cancer Society: Target Heart Rate Calculator
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.