Often, when asked about exercise, patients will proudly whip out their smart phones and show me how many steps they are getting per day. Some people have told me that the health insurance premiums they pay may be reduced by proving that they are tracking and exceeding a certain mandatory step count per day. I will then ask the person what his/her heart rate is during these “stepping” episodes and very few people know the answer to that question.
A “good” aerobic/fat burn-off exercise is getting your heart rate up to 80% of “maximum for age” and keeping the rate there for 20-30 minutes. What is 80% maximum for age? Take 220 and subtract your age. That is considered 100% max. Then, multiple that number by 80% and that becomes a suggested target heart rate during your exercise. As an example, a 50 year old person would have a 100% maximum heart rate target of 170(220-50) and then a really good aerobic fat burning exercise would target a heart rate of 136 (170X.80).
This does not mean that if your heart rate exceeds the 100% level that is dangerous, although if a person has any underlying medical conditions, he/she should check with their doctor about how intense exercise can be and remain safe. Additionally, if your heart rate hits below 80% maximum for age, this does not mean that your exercise is meaningless as this relates to fat-burning and weight loss.
There are a number of wrist devices that can check your heart rate and the old fashioned way of placing your fingers on your radial pulse (at your wrist area) or carotid pulse (in your neck), counting the beats for 30 seconds and then multiplying that number by 2 will provide the heart rate per minute.
If you find that the walking of your dog or steps you are counting during your workdays are not resulting in heart rates above 100, please consider a more aggressive, heart rate increasing exercise to accompany your dietary efforts to shed the weight. Do not allow those step counters to provide you with a false sense of security that you are getting lots of “productive” exercise in your daily activities. Know your heart rate!