The target heart rate is how fast the heart should beat during different levels of physical activity. Understanding their target heart rate can help a person determine if their workouts are as effective as they would like.

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The American Heart Association (AHA) states that moderate-intensity exercise typically occurs when a person’s heart rate is 50–70% of their maximum heart rate, while high intensity workouts lead to a range from 70–85%.

This article reviews what a target heart rate is, how a person can calculate it, and when to contact a doctor.

According to the AHA, the target heart rate based on a person’s age is as follows:

AgeTarget heart rate zone (50–85% of maximum) Maximum heart rate
20100–170 beats per minute (bpm)200 bpm
3095–162 bpm190 bpm
3593–157 bpm185 bpm
4090–153 bpm180 bpm
4588–149 bpm175 bpm
5085–145 bpm170 bpm
5583–140 bpm165 bpm
6080–136 bpm160 bpm
6578–132 bpm155 bpm
7075–128 bpm150 bpm

The AHA notes that people should first work out their maximum heart rate. To do this, a person should subtract their age from 220.

The next step is to decide on the intensity of the workout.

If a person wants to maintain moderate-intensity physical activity, their target heart rate will be 50–70% of their maximum heart rate.

If a person wants to maintain vigorous-intensity physical activity, their target heart rate will be 70–85% of their maximum heart rate.

Example calculation

The following example calculates the target heart for a person who is 20 years old.

Maximum heart rate

A person would need to subtract 20 from 220. This would give them a maximum heart rate of 200 bpm.

Moderate-intensity workout

As their target heart rate would be 50–70% of their maximum heart rate, they would need to use the following formulas:

  • 50% level: 200 x 0.50 = 100 bpm
  • 70% level: 200 x 0.70 = 140 bpm

Their target heart rate range during their workout would be 100–140 bpm.

Vigorous-intensity workout

As their target heart rate would be 70–85% of their maximum heart rate, they would need to use the following formulas:

  • 70% level: 200 x 0.70 = 140 bpm
  • 85% level: 200 x 0.85 = 170 bpm

Their target heart rate range during their workout would be 140–170 bpm.

A person can use the same formula to understand if they need to increase or decrease the intensity of their workout.

A target heart rate shows a person how many heartbeats they should aim to experience per minute during physical activity.

A person can use their results to adjust the intensity of their workout.

Understanding their target heart rate can help people figure out how effectively they are exercising. It can also help them keep track of their health and fitness levels.

According to the AHA, if a person’s heart rate is too high during exercise, it means that they are straining and may need to slow down.

If their target heart rate is too slow, people may wish to push themselves a little harder to get the most out of their workout session.

If people are just beginning to participate in regular physical activity, they may find it beneficial to aim for the lower end of their target heart rate range.

To keep track of their heart rate during physical activity, a person can use a wearable activity tracker.

According to a 2019 study, smartwatches and chest straps have a relatively high level of accuracy in determining a person’s heartbeat.

Alternatively, a person can check their pulse manually, using the wrist, neck, or chest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using the wrist.

To do this, a person should stop exercising, place the tips of their index and middle finger over the artery, and press lightly. They should then count their heartbeats for 60 seconds. Alternatively, they can count them for 30 seconds and multiply the number by two.

Learn more about 7 of the best heart rate monitors for 2022.

The AHA states that medications can affect a person’s heart rate. This may mean a person has a lower maximum and target heart rate.

People should speak with a doctor to find out what their heart rate should be if they have a heart condition or take medication.

People should also contact a doctor if their resting heart rate is consistently higher than average, as this could signal potential heart-related issues. The average resting heart rate for adults is 60–100 bpm. Athletes and those who engage in a lot of physical activity may have a resting heart rate as low as 40 bpm.

Before starting a new exercise program, a person should speak with a doctor. The doctor can help identify any potential risks and help a person avoid their heart rate becoming too high.

Anyone new to exercise may want to consider working with a trainer to develop a workout program that will help them reach their goals safely.

A person’s target heart rate can help them determine the intensity of their workout. Once they figure out their target heart rate, they will be able to adjust their workout accordingly.

To help keep track of their heart rate during physical activity, people can use a wearable device, such as a chest strap or smartwatch.

Alternatively, they can briefly pause their workout and manually measure their pulse.