Please ignore those little graphs

January 14th, 2011 by Amy Gonsalves Leave a reply »

News flash: Men and women have different bodies! 

Just kidding.  Or am I?  Did you realize that almost all data used in calculating those numbers and little colored graphs pasted on nearly every treadmill, stair climber, stationery bike, and elliptical in gyms across the land about maximum heart rates (HRmax) has been data on male subjects.  Same with calorie counts on those machines… !!

Finally someone thought to study FEMALE subjects to come up with more accurate data for us about our maximum heart rates.  Now, I learned a couple things when reading about this study: (1) I learned that the American Heart Association publishes a medical journal entitled CIRCULATION- love that- and (2) I learned that the belief most trainers have shared for years has scientific merit.  (I love that too.)

I took a class a few years ago about maximum heart rate.  Basically I learned at that class that age-related slowing of heart rate is NOT a natural law: it’s more a factor of deconditioning, not of age.  (Ever since I have been curious to see what my friend’s 70-year-old triathlete mom’s heart rate is and compare hers to mine.)  Clearly, that class knocked the age factor on the little colored graph out for me. 

But this study did something with gender, too, and that I think is information worth sharing.

The study found that the widely used recommendations (that the class I took destroyed with facts and data) for a woman’s maximum heart rate is in fact higher than necessary

     You’ve seen or heard of the formula the graphs use:

               220- age = HRmax

     Well, this study said in fact that for asymptomatic women, the formula should instead be:

               206- (age x 0.88) = HRmax

For me this means that the older male-based formula would say my HRmax is 220-33 = 187, yet the newer female-based formula says my HRmax is really 206 – (33 x 0.88) = 177.

(If you’ve ever hit either of those heart rates you know this is a BIG DIFFERENCE.)

 But then there’s that darn reality again: my HRmax is much higher than 177… or 187… and I haven’t keeled over with a heart that maxed out. 

So the moral of the story is that one’s Maximum Heart Rate is very individual, the entire idea of a maximum rate is conceptual rather than literal (how do you ever exceed your maximum?  Don’t you just get a new maximum?), and those little graphs mean very very little.  Very little.

Go by how YOU feel when YOU are exercising, or invest in a heart rate monitor to tell you what rate you are at, but only if you want to train in certain heart rate zones for specific training.  (The vast majority of heart rate monitors and calorie machines that tell you calories burned are a massive crock, too.)  

Your own awareness of your breathing, energy and exertion level is a far better indicator for you than almost anything else. 

Better yet, your awareness works when you get off the machines and head outside instead!

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