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New Guidelines For Maximum Heart Rate Released

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I am not just a couch potato, I’m the queen-of-the-sofa. The simple truth is that while my brothers were off winning races and bringing home trophies and blue ribbons and laurel leaves, I was quite simply much happier curled up on the couch with a good book. The problem for me with exercise is sweat – I really, really hate (yes, hate is a strong word but it’s the appropriate one at the moment) to sweat. Of course, here in the south, we ladies don’t sweat – we “glow” – honey, do I ever “glow” when I exercise!

Since exercise isn’t my first love (or even my second or third), I want to make certain that my heart gets the most bang-for-the-buck and benefit out of every minute that I spend turning my otherwise somewhat civilized self into a red-faced, dripping puddle of womanhood. In the past, the best medical advice for getting that heart rate up into the good-for-you-cardiac-zone meant hitting the magic target of at least 70 percent of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) during the sweating (oops, I mean exercise) session. Calculating the MHR was really pretty easy – simply subtract your age from 220. To find the 70 percent target heart rate was a simple matter of multiplying the result by 70 percent.

All this sounds well and good (and easy) and for 40 years we women have made the trip to the gym with our calculations in hand, satisfied that as long as we hit the target heart rate, we were doing our part to ensure a healthy heart. There’s just one little flaw with the MHR. It turns out that (uh oh!) this formula was developed based on studies conducted on – men! (Yes, no girls allowed in those studies – men only.) As we’ve all, hopefully, learned by now, men and women really are physiologically different and our bodies simply do not respond the same way. To reverse an old saying, what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander (and vice versa).

So, it’s out with the old and in with new heart rate guidelines which now take a woman’s physiology into account. Developed as a result of the St. James Women Take Heart Project, the new formula for calculating maximum heart rate for a woman is 206 minus 88 percent of your age. (The St. James Women Take Heart Project was a Chicago area study which began in 1992. The study consisted of 5,437 women over the age of 35 years.) This new formula is gender-specific and applies only to women and will provide a better heart risk analysis those of us of the feminine persuasion.

What does the new formula mean in real life? The new formula will change the MHR and target heart rates that we should strive for when we sweat (uh, I meant exercise). For example, under the old formula, the MHR for a 50 year old woman was 170 (MHR = 220 – 50 or 170). Under the new guidelines, the MHR is only 162 (MHR = 206 – (88% x 50) or MHR = 206 – 44 or 162). The difference between a MHR of 162 and 170 may not sound like many points when applied to paper. However, in the real world, these results will also change the target heart rates as well.

So, the good news is two-fold. First, after 40 years of women using data that was based on men, we finally have guidelines that are specific to the woman’s unique physiology. Secondly, I finally have proof that I really am working as hard as I thought I was and that I don’t have to hit the 170 mark to be doing a good job of working out my heart. The only negative that I can see is that it’s now time to quit watching the rain and get up off my very comfortable sofa, leave my book behind and go sweat (oops, I mean – exercise)!

New Gender-specific Formula Gives Accurate Peak Heart Rate For Women; Better Predicts Risk of Heart-related Death, Medical News Today, 29 June 2010, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/193277.php

American Heart Association statistics on women and heart disease, American Heart Association, 29 June 2010, http://americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4736

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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