Will my heart explode?
February 21, 2008 9:26 AM   Subscribe

When I jog, my heart rate goes to 195 beats per minute. Is that bad?

I've recently started jogging, following the couch to 5k program. I've led a moderately active life thus far, but I've never been an athlete and I'm about 30 lbs overweight. I bought a heart rate monitor and wore it during my last run. I was surprised to see some very high numbers on the monitor. My resting heart rate (HR) is 65. I thought my max was 185. Brisk walking brought my heart up to about 140, and when I started to jog (slowly!) the monitor hit 195! I can jog for about three minutes at that level before I have to walk again.

I'm definitely huffing and puffing and sweating and red in the face at that level, but I don't feel like I'm going to barf or die. Now, here's my question: According to the materials that came with my monitor, I should be training in the 65-85% zone. Does this mean I can't run at this fitness level and should just be walking? Am I harming myself in some way by pushing my body and heart too hard during exercise? How long will it typically take for my heart to adjust to the strain of running and slow down a bit? Tips, thoughts, experiences all welcome. Thanks!
posted by bonheur to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What is your age and weight? That will determine what your save zone is.
posted by beagle at 9:30 AM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: 25 years old, 180 lbs, 5'7" female.
posted by bonheur at 9:31 AM on February 21, 2008

Sorry, never mind weight. The standard formula is that the max is 220 minus your age, and then you should aim for the 65-85% range for aerobic exercise (or 70-80% according to this chart).
So, 195 should be your max. Slow down a bit to be in the right zone. After a while, you will find your heart strengthens and you can speed up without increasing your heart rate, and your resting rate will go down.
posted by beagle at 9:36 AM on February 21, 2008

As to how long, I'd say in 2-3 months you'll definitely notice improvement. You're improving from day one, though... Congrats on starting this program and good luck.
posted by beagle at 9:37 AM on February 21, 2008

If you're really concerned you may want to have a quick physical done by your doctor. Not a bad idea to do anyway before making a change in lifestyle. I've been told that if you can't hold a conversation while running you're doing it too hard. Maybe you should run at a lower level and slowly work your way up as your body adjusts.

In my own case, I find my average heart rate starts to drop two weeks or so into training. I have to work harder to maintain a certain heart rate and my resting heart rate drops a bit.
posted by beowulf573 at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2008

The 220 minus your age thing is not always (and not even very often) accurate. I'm 28 and my max is 204. I usually run in the 166-175 range. The best way to determine your max is to go get it professionally tested. The second best way is...well, you test for it yourself. I know this question has come up before because I've posted this before. Let me dig a little and find the website.
posted by bibbit at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2008

Your heart will not explode.

The traditional "220 minus age" equation has been challenged recently. Research suggests you can go higher than that.

You will probably be fine exercising at 195 BPM. Get an exercise stress test if you are really concerned.
posted by tiburon at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2008

One possibility is that your heart rate monitor isn't totally accurate. Test it manually (it's probably pretty accurate, but just make sure).

As others have mentioned, the "220 minus your age" thing is really just to get you in the ball park. There are tests you can do yourself (warning, they're pretty freaking uncomfortable) on a track. Try Stress Test #2.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2008

I was in a similar position a while ago, though I am a man, overweight and sedentary to running 5 days a week. I remember being very upset that my walking pace was getting me close to my target heart rate, but I kept at it. I put the monitor away and I ran at a pace that was comfortable, where I didn't feel stressed or sick. When I got well into my training program, after my first 5K race actually, I started using the monitor again to make sure I was running in the zone I wanted.

You will see improvements in heart rate and pace, stick with a good program to get the best results and know when to push yourself. I have also noticed that after a total break from exercise, for as little as a week, it takes me a good two weeks to get my heart rate back down. I feel the same, but my heart rate is noticeably higher than when I'm on a program.

A visit to the doctor's office for a stress test will tell you what your real maximum heart rate is, and clear up your concerns about health and safety.

Looking back, my running pace a year ago is slower than my walking pace now. Everyone starts somewhere and you will get better. Keep at it! Running is a blast.
posted by Science! at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2008

The 220-age formula is useless. Don't worry about that at all. You would not be able to run three minutes at your max HR. There may be physical problems, I don't know and I'm not a doctor and no one can diagnose you on the internet. If you are worried then you need to go see a doctor.

I think you're running too fast. Here is a long comment I wrote about different levels of exertion and different heart rates. Because you know your HR in this case, I would say you should just slow down a bit. One of the things that training does is allow you to run faster with a lower heart rate.
posted by OmieWise at 10:02 AM on February 21, 2008

Best answer: Hey there. Doctor with a bit of experience in sports medicine and former collegiate 400 meter runner turned marathoner chiming in just with my two cents...

Chances are, it's not harmful but it does mean that despite your low resting rate, your cardiopulmonary reserve isn't all so great. In other words, you're out of shape. As you've figured out, the real problem with exercising at or near your maximum heart rate is that you just won't be able to do it for very long. Consequently, it becomes difficult to get a decent aerobic workout in 2-3 minute bursts. Though it probably will get you in shape better than doing nothing, you're going to be inducing lactic acidosis if you push yourself like that, which will lead to a lot of aching and cramping, and lengthen recovery time between workouts.

I know you may really want to do more than brisk walking, but at this point you're actually better off doing a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day than taking a few 3 minute jogs before tiring out. The walk will lead to more sustained improvements in your endurance, not to mention less strain on your bones/joints (less risk of repetitive stress injury, plantar fascitis, shin splints, stress fractures, etc...), and probably more calories burned and weight lost in the long run.

There's a lot of complex physiology that goes into the mumbo jumbo about goal heart rates. My opinion is that for the average person, targeting heart rate has some value but it's really a stronger tool for endurance athletes. It's utility is more to tell you if you're underdoing it and not hitting target at all than if you're overdoing it. Your body does a fine job in most cases of telling you you're overdoing it. In that regard, I like to recommend people shoot more for a sustained time period of aerobic activity at first. Initially I say 20-30 minutes. Whether, how rapidly, and how much this should ultimately be ramped up sort of depends on why you're working out in the first place. The approach to athletic training say for a marathon differs from that for a 1600 meter run, and these differ from a goal like weight loss. In the case of the former, you're really focused on building aerobic endurance, training slow twitch muscle, and working on speed/time, whereas in the latter it's really more about calories burned.

In your case, again, at this point if you're more likely to sustain a brisk walk for 30 minutes then that's really what you should stick to. If it gets to a point where you're really finding yourself kind of bored and not breathing hard or working up a decent heart rate by the end of that walk, then you know you're ready to try to either speed things up or lengthen your workout depending on the circumstances. How long this will take is hard to predict but I'd guess in most people, with dail y exercise you're talking on the order of ramping things up every few weeks to a month. That may seem slow going or frustrating, but I assure you, it's less frustrating than the injury you may be risking otherwise.

In any event, I applaud you for getting off the couch in the first place and wish you the best. The key is to take things slow and keep at it. This is a lifestyle change you're making. In terms of goals, you're probably for better off focusing on your own compliance with regular workouts and mentally rewarding yourself for longevity than you are for focusing on endurance improvements or even weight loss.
posted by drpynchon at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2008 [9 favorites]

I think it's a good idea to stay close to your target heart rate for a few months and establish a decent aerobic fitness level. After that, I think it's fine to move more into the anaerobic zone intermittently. Ross Enamait, a professional sports trainer (who knows his stuff) recommends this approach over traditional aerobic exercise. I once queried him about this and he recommended the following articles:

Sports Conditioning: A comparison - moderate intensity continuous activity and high intensity intermittent activity

Re-Examining the Value of Aerobic Exercise
posted by keith0718 at 10:31 AM on February 21, 2008

You won't explode but you do need to "build base" for eight weeks or so. Do the brisk walking-in fact try to walk even faster-and keep your heart rate below 80 percent for that amount of time.

Trust me, it's worth it.
posted by konolia at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2008

Although there is a lot of variation from the 220 minus age formula (My last stress test put me about 10 BPM higher), I suspect your heart rate monitor is inaccurate.

Does your monitor have a chest strap, or is it a wrist only one? If there is a strap, make sure there isn't a gap between the sensors and your skin. If you can, spring for some conductive gel and see if that changes your readings.

Also, your hydration level will have a huge impact on your heart rate. When I'm dehydrated, the same workout has my heart rate 20-30 BPM higher.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2008

That max HR formula is junk, too. It underestimates my Max HR by 20 points (or 10%)!

If you want to know your max HR for the purposes of working out efficiently then test it. It's pretty easy. Warm up thoroughly. Run a semi-hard 400 on a track. Run a 400 hard going all out for the last 150 meters. Take your pulse. There's your Max HR. If you can't do a test of that nature, you aren't going to benefit from knowing your Max HR anyway, and should just use perceived effort (which has been validated by many studies) to guide your workouts. If you feel like you're working out at 60% effort then you probably are.
posted by OmieWise at 1:50 PM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: To follow up, I ran again last night at the gym. I slowed down from running at 6.0 mph to 5.2 or so, and my heart rate stayed steady around 180 for the running sessions. Eventually I'd like to be able to run a 5k at a 10 minutes mile pace (6.0 mph), but I have some time to work up to that goal. Thanks for all the great advice!
posted by bonheur at 9:51 AM on February 22, 2008

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