Heart-Rate Monitors 101

Looking for a way to make the most of your workouts? Try a heart-rate monitor on for size.

Looking for a way to make the most of your workouts? Try a heart-rate monitor on for size.

What is a Heart-Rate Monitor?

As advertised, these gadgets measure your heart rate (a.k.a take your pulse) by sensing and displaying how many times your heart beats each minute. While heart rates will vary from person to person, a healthy adult typically averages anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute while at rest. As physical activity increases, so will the beats.

While there are some decent mobile apps out there for pedometers, it’s a very different scene for heart-rate monitors – apps just won’t cut it (at least not yet).

The most common heart-rate monitor styles are worn on the wrist, but some come with chest straps for continuous monitoring of heart activity. Chest strap models are slightly more cumbersome but are also more accurate (and more expensive).  For the wrist-only models, you usually have to stop activity to get an accurate reading. There’s also a huge variety of options - units range in price from $30.00 to more than $500.00! I'm a big fan of anything made by Timex and Polar has a nice variety of budget-friendly models.

Extra features you may find include timers, GPS devices, footware accessories that measure distance traveled and the ability to store data and download it to your computer to track progress.

Getting Started

The higher your heart rate, the more calories you are burning but since it’s unrealistic (and unsafe) to maintain a high heart rate for too long, a monitor can help you keep a handle on things.

Using a heart rate monitor is a safe and smart way to monitor your intensity and helps make the most of your exercise sessions. Exercising in the proper heart rate range, or "zone" can maximize the efficiency of your workout.

Working out at varying percentages of your maximum heart rate helps to give you a better and more well-rounded workout. Lower intensity exercise burns a high percentage of fat while higher intensities use more carbs for fuel while helping to develop cardiovascular fitness and increase speed.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

•    Get started with a simple and affordable heart-rate monitor and then trade up if you're looking for more features.

•    Calculate your maximum heart rate with this simple calculation (220 - your age).

•    Vary exercise intensity between 50 and 85% of you maximum heart rate to diversify your exercise intensity.

•    Use interval training – a mix of low and high intensity -- within a workout to burn the most calories.

•    Use a heart rate monitor for more than just running – it works for walking, biking and skiing too.

Tell Us: Do you use a heart rate monitor?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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