Exercise in Your Target Heart Rate

Greetings Healthy Boilers,

The wellness focus for July is fitness, and the Center for Healthy Living would like to take a closer look at what your personal exercise program should look like. As with any lifestyle change, it is important to set a realistic schedule for yourself and make your plan as specific as possible. Purdue University has various fitness resources available to help you reach your fitness goals! Health coaches at the Center for Healthy Living can be a resource for accountability and motivation.  Fitness Assessments and personal training is available at the A.H. Ismail Center and the CoRec through Recreation and Wellness.  Keep reading for tips on getting started with physical activity, understanding your target heart rate and tracking your progress!

  1. Getting started

There are multiple components of an exercise program you can consider to include the duration, frequency, intensity and type of exercise. When developing your personal exercise program, start by assessing your calendar to determine the right frequency and duration of exercise for the day, week and month.

Frequency (how often) – Your goal is to exercise five to seven times per week.

Duration (how long) – The amount of time you are able to exercise should add up to 150 minutes per week on average. Duration is cumulative and can be broken down into smaller chunks of time.

Keep in mind some physical activity is better than none! If you are not able to get in 150 minutes of activity a week, walking at a brisk pace for 10 minutes a day can still bring health benefits and serve as “baby steps” to more exercise and better health. If you are not able to do your usual exercise program because of physical problems, you can do simple things such as:

  • Walking indoors
  • Parking the car farther away and walking more
  • Using steps instead of the elevator

Once you have determined when and how long you will exercise in your week, you can map out the type and intensity of your exercise.  Consulting a professional (like those available at the A.H. Ismail Center or CoRec) if you are a beginner is recommended to ensure proper form and prevent injury.

Type (what kind) – Decide what type of exercise will you perform – aerobic, resistance and/or flexibility.

Intensity (how hard) – Your fitness level will determine how intense an activity is for you. In general, you can gauge how hard you exercise by using the talk/sing test. If you cannot talk while you are exercising, you are exercising too hard. If you can sing while exercising, you are not exercising hard enough.

 Target Heart Rate

A good way to determine if you are working at the right intensity is by knowing your target heart rate and testing to see if you are reaching it during exercise. You can determine your actual heart rate during exercise by:

  • Using a heart rate monitor – there are a variety available
  • Machines with built-in monitors – most are not that accurate
  • Briefly stopping exercise to check your pulse using your index finger pressed against the inside of your wrist or a carotid artery on the side of your neck

Everyone has a different resting heart rate, which is measured as beats per minute (bpm). A lower resting heart rate implies better fitness and cardiovascular health, but age, gender, genetics and health status all determine at what rate your heart beats at rest. A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 bpm, while an optimal resting heart rate is under 80 bpm. The best way to determine your resting heart rate is to take your pulse first thing in the morning several days in a row to get a consistent reading. You can count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply by six or count the beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four.

When developing an exercise program, there are a few different ways to determine a target heart rate:

  • General target heart rates based on age and exercise time (see table below)
  • Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method used to calculate personal heart rate ranges
  • Maximal exercise test to determine actual maximal heart rate – equipment is needed to measure oxygen consumption by the body during exercise

The table below from the Cooper Institute shows general target heart-rate ranges for aerobic conditioning according to age. Note that these goals are based on a percentage of a maximum heart rate which decrease as the length of exercise increases. To achieve a consistent training effect, the heart rate at which you exercise should decline as your exercise time increases, and vice versa.

General, age-based target heart rates during exercise:

Exercise Time / % max HR

20-yrs-old 30-yrs-old 40-yrs-old 50-yrs-old 60-yrs-old 70-yrs-old
20 min / 80% 160 bpm 150 bpm 145 bpm 135 bpm 130 bpm 120 bpm
30 min / 75% 150 bpm 140 bpm 135 bpm 125 bpm 120 bpm 115 bpm
45 min / 65% 130 bpm 125 bpm 115 bpm 110 bpm 105 bpm

100 bpm

Another way to determine your target heart rate and gauge exercise intensity, is to calculate your personal ranges using the Heart Rate Reserve method. This is a four-step process:

Step 1: Predicted maximal heart rate (bpm) = 207 – (0.7 x age)

Step 2: Determine Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) = predicted maximal heart rate – resting heart rate

Step 3: Multiply HRR by percent intensity based on your fitness level (see chart below)

Step 4: Determine target heart rate range by adding back resting heart rate


Fitness Level Low % HR reserve High % HR reserve
Poor 40 60
Good 60 70
Excellent 70 85

Track Your Progress

There are more resources now than ever to help you succeed on your fitness journey. One device mentioned above is a heart rate monitor. There are many programs, books, playlists, gyms, videos, applications and classes out there to get you moving. Find what works for you and keeps you motivated. Is it a group fitness class with friends? Is it the Nike Run Club mobile app? Is it an online fitness community? Is it a group from work committed to exercise before, during or after work hours? Is it getting your family in the living room following a calisthenics video? Is it a single mom on Instagram who posts her workouts? Whatever gets you on a schedule and gets your heart rate to your target range is the right answer. The good thing is there are TONS of right answers out there.

Start talking to your friends, family and coworkers. Talk with those who have found success and see what is working for them. Find an accountability partner. Work with a health coach at the Center for Healthy Living. Map out a game plan and GET MOVING. One of the best motivations is tracking your progress. This can be done in multiple ways:

  • Progress photos
  • Body measurements
  • Biometric health screening
  • Mood/energy level journal
  • Body fat percentage
  • Track workouts with a journal or application like MyFitnessPal
  • Stress test results

Keep in mind, scales cannot tell the whole fitness story. Measuring weight can be deceptive when pounds can be present as fat, lean muscle and water – all of which present on the body in very different ways. How you look and feel is a much better indication of fitness success. When working with a health coach at the CHL, you can track your body composition with a free InBody assessments.  The InBody scale is a great tool to understand your weight and what actually makes up those pounds!  Success is not necessarily ‘weight loss’ but a loss of fat mass and gaining lean mass.


  • Health coaches at the Center for Healthy Living. Call 765-494-0111 to make an appointment with a health coach for an InBody Assessment and fitness planning.
  • Fitness Assessments and personal training at the A.H. Ismail Center. For more information contact 765-496-6449.
  • Faculty, Staff & Retiree Memberships to the CoRec through Recreation & Wellness. Learn more about membership options here or services available here.


Be kind. Be well. Boiler Up!

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