Heart Health

Wearing a Heart Monitor Can Improve Your Workout—and Your Overall Health

Get out your FitBits and Apple Watches.

By Allison Forsyth

Heart Monitors

Image: Kari Perrin

We know that heart rate is an important indicator of overall health. Doctors check it to see if we have high blood pressure or arrhythmias like tachycardia (fast heart rate) and bradycardia (slow heart rate). And tracking heart rate with a wearable device can help us monitor stress levels, caffeine intake and adverse reactions to medication.

But can knowledge of our heart rate over the course of a workout help us improve our routine?

Orangetheory Sarasota's regional fitness coach Aimee Reffner says yes. She shares the benefits to heart monitors and tips for working out based on heart health.

Are heart monitors necessary for an effective workout?

"I think it's possible to have a good workout without a monitor; however, using one will make your workout more effective," says Reffner. "Wearing the monitor over time will show how your body is adapting to a workout's intensity level and whether you need to push harder or pull back."

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the higher your heart rate gets, the more calories you burn. By using a heart rate monitor during a workout, you can adjust your energy output to match your heart rate to the best level to burn fat.

What does heart rate tell you about your workout?

"Heart rate can tell you if you are burning fat or muscle, depending on the heart rate zone you fall in," says Reffner. "It is not just about how fast your heart is beating, but how consistently you fall in a particular beats-per-minute zone that matters."

According to the American Heart Association, working out at roughly 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise, while 70 to 85 qualifies as vigorous intensity. Hitting these target zones while maintaining a balanced, healthy diet will help you burn fat over muscle.

"Tracking heart rate can tell you how your body is adapting to a workout," Reffner adds.

What can heart rate tell you about workout recovery?

Reffner says heart rate can tell you how well your body is recovering from a workout, too. "The true indicator of fitness is how your heart rate returns to its resting beats-per-minute during rests in the workout and after it is complete," she explains. This means you should know your resting heart rate. The average is about 50 to 90 beats-per-minute, according to Reffner. Track this by keeping your wearable heart rate monitor on at all times.

What's the target heart rate to aim for?

"Target heart rate when working out is personal and goal specific," says Reffner. "The easiest way for the majority of people to determine maximum heart rate is subtracting your age from 220. Depending on this number, you can create an ideal range that will help you burn fat."

How do wearable heart monitors work?

Fitness trackers like FitBits, Apple Watches and the Oura Ring use optical sensors that measure the blood flow in your veins located below the sensor. This is different from chest strap models, which utilize electrodes in the padding that touches the skin to measure the heart's electrical activity. Fitness trackers make it much easier and more accessible to track heart rate.

How else are heart rate monitors helpful?

Wearing the device daily (even when you sleep) can help you pick up abnormalities. "If you wake up and your heart rate is higher than normal, it's an indicator that something else is going on in your body," says Reffner.

Monitors can also help track stress levels, determine if you are experiencing an adverse reaction to caffeine, alcohol or certain medications, and can determine when you should seek medical advice.

"People have been focusing on their heart health more than ever," says Reffner. "This is why fitness as it's related to your heart is so important for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Wearing a heart monitor is just another great tool to achieve this."

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