For many of us, our workout partner has become a gadget, not a person. Be it a Fitbit, Apple Watch or an app on our smart phone, we’re often wearing a device that reports our sleep patterns, heart rate and overall activity.
But what does all of this information really tell us? Is a heart rate of 150 a good thing? Are my 10,000 steps worth bragging to my friends?
Experts say it’s not actually about the numbers at all, but the behaviors and motivations behind them.
“The Fitbits are a great motivational tool to use for encouragement for exercise—being able to track steps and how much activity you are taking part in.” says Dr. Asher Shafton, a cardiologist at the Heart Institute of Colorado. Whether it is heart rate, step-tracking, sleep-tracking or stand-up reminders, these tools are about driving decisions, not about amassing data.
And while such tools may be a useful way to evaluate how hard you’re exercising, Dr. Shafton is quick to point out that it is no substitute for simply listening to your body the old-fashioned way.
“If you can carry on a conversation during a workout, your heart rate is probably at a good pace,” says Dr. Shafton. “If you are feeling light headed and can’t carry on a conversation, then you should pay attention to your heart rate because you may be pushing yourself too hard. Listening to your body and knowing how you feel is key.”
Dr. Shafton says you should aim for 45 minutes of moderate exercise a day and research shows that moderate exercise can reduce risk for heart attack, stroke and blood clots. So whether you’re walking 200 steps or 20,000, or if your heart rate is 130 or 170, if that little screen is making you dig a little deeper and break a sweat, then it’s doing its job.
What’s in a heart rate?
With heart rate monitors on workout machines, watches and smartphones, we’re paying more attention to our tickers than ever, but do we know what we’re looking at? Dr. Asher Shafton, a cardiologist at the Heart Institute of Colorado, breaks it down:
- Resting heart rate: 60-80 beats per minute
- Maximum target heart rate: Take 220 – your age. For a 40-year-old, maximum would be 180.
- Moderate intensity: 50-69 percent of your maximum heart rate. 90 to 124 beats per minute for a 40-year-old.
- High intensity: 70-90 percent of maximum heart rate. 125 to 162 beats per minute for a 40-year-old.
Heart rate monitors are NOT intended to serve in diagnosing your health. If you suspect you have a heart condition, consult your doctor.