Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pulse and Weight Loss: The Heart of the Matter

Resting heart rate. Varying heart rate. Maximum heart rate. Target heart rate. What is all the heart rate fuss about, anyway?  Can’t you just put in a hard workout and reap the results? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Okay, we’re going to level with you here: Working out is already such a big commitment, and to have to watch your heart rate and listen to your PPT trainer tell you to “Quicken your pace”, “Maintain”, “Okay, slow down now”, “No, really, you need to slow down” can seem, well, frustrating. Sometimes you don’t want to pick it up. And other times the high of working to your full capacity is so exhilarating, who wants to be told to bring it down several notches? But did you know that monitoring your heart rate is one of the most important components of weight loss and overall health?
The Relationship Between Exercise and Heart Rate
Keeping your heart rate in the right zone is vital.
The easiest way to understand how your heart functions during exercise is to visualize a pump. The right side of the heart muscle pumps blood into the lungs, where it fills with oxygen. Blood then flows to the left side of the heart, where it pumps oxygenated blood out through the arteries and into the circulatory system. During exercise, muscles require more oxygen and produce more metabolic waste that the blood flow carries away. To help with this process, the blood vessels in the heart begin to expand, allowing the blood flow to increase. In this process called vasodilation, the heart beats faster. You can actually feel the increased push, or pulse, as the heart pumps increased amounts of oxygenated blood throughout your system. The harder you work out, the faster your heart pumps. Seems simple, right? Well, not exactly.

The Dangers Of A Soaring Heart Rate
Many people assume that if their pulse is high, they’re getting a better workout with the added bonus of exercising the heart muscle.  But pushing your heart rate to the max beyond a certain window of time is more than detrimental— it’s dangerous. Overexertion can lead to serious complications such as heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death. Kind of ironic when you think about your fitness goals, isn’t it? The heart is a complex machine, and while we aren’t trying to instill fear, it’s important to highlight the dangers of pushing yourself too hard, or ignoring your trainer because you’ve been told “No pain, no gain” in the past. It’s a misleading maxim that can lead to a multitude of problems— the same problems we focus on preventing.

How Does Heart Rate Affect Your Ability To Burn Fat?
If you’ve ever worked out at a gym, you’ve most likely studied the BPM (Heart Beats Per Minute) chart on a cardio machine and tried to stay in the “fat burning zone”. More than likely, you’ve questioned how you can possibly burn calories at this low-intensity pace. Plus, if you’ve read about the importance of a varying your heart rate to lose weight,  now you’re on a whole new plateau of confusion. Ever just give up out of sheer exasperation or at least question whether you’re going about it the right way? With the plethora of information out there, it’s no wonder the majority of people are confused!

So, What’s The Answer?
Most of the time, the best way to burn fat is to stay within 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate – also referred to as the target heart rate – which you can calculate using the Karvonen method:
Target Heart Rate = ((Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) × % intensity) + Resting Heart Rate.

Make sure to calculate both the lowest number (50 percent) and highest number (85 percent) of your target heart range;  a pulse below or above those numbers will prevent you from working out in the fat-burning zone, which is usually a solid beginning for those looking to lose weight. Still you may find that it doesn’t seem aggressive enough or you’re concerned about the health of your heart and want to caution on a safer side. There are a variety of factors that can affect your target heart rate. If you suffer from high cholesterol, hypotension, or other heart-related diseases, for example, you may need to work out in a different zone. On the other hand, if you have quick recovery time (a measure of the heart’s ability to return to its pre-exercise resting rate) you may need a different zone strategy as well. The truth is, no two hearts are the same, so often time there’s just no one-rate-fits-all solution. There are many different workout routines that focus on reaching different heart-rate zones—from lower-intensity, endurance-building workouts, to higher-intensity workouts to interval training, in which you vary your pulse between high and low intensity rates. Remember, if you’re feeling unsure, a good personal trainer has had years of education and can build the right program uniquely for you. One of the many benefits of working with a trainer is his or her ability to personalize your workout on many levels—and analyzing your heart rate zone is one of them.


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