Target heart rate

March 22, 2017


Target heart rate

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 ( Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Exercise, exercise training zone, heart rate, maximum heart rate (MHR), pulse, pulse rate, resting heart rate (RHR), training heart rate.


  • Target heart rate (THR), or training heart rate, is a desired range of heart rate reached during aerobic exercise at which the heart is being exercised but not overworked. This theoretical range varies from person to person and is based on one's fitness level, age and physical condition. The THR can be calculated by using a range of 50-85% intensity.

  • Calculating the target heart rate requires knowing one's maximum heart rate (HRmax). This number may be calculated by subtracting one's age in years from the number 220. So, according to this equation, a 39 year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 181.

  • There is consensus that, in order to promote general health, at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity should be performed, three or more days per week. This consensus is based on various studies from the World Health Organization, American Heart Association, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.

  • Sedentary people and those with low physical fitness levels may benefit from 30 minutes of moderate activity, three days per week. To obtain increased benefits, those with better conditions should exercise longer and/or at a higher intensity (e.g. 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity, five or more days per week).

  • Any activity that is rhythmic and aerobic in nature, uses large muscle groups and can be maintained continuously, is recommended for general health and fitness. Activities that can be practiced as part of everyday life are particularly useful. Examples include brisk walking, climbing stairs, cycling, dancing, jogging/running, hiking, low-impact aerobic exercises, swimming, skipping rope, ice/roller skating and various endurance games and sport activities.

  • Duration is related to intensity. Lower-intensity activity should be conducted over a longer period of time than higher-intensity activity. For example, 60 minutes of slow biking at 50 percent capacity (moderate activity) is comparable to 30 minutes of fast biking at 80 percent aerobic capacity (vigorous activity).

  • Although longer sessions are generally preferable, their duration may hinder compliance among some people. In these cases it may be appropriate to recommend accumulated bouts of activity for shorter durations throughout the day (e.g. 15 minutes two or four times daily, instead of 30 or 60 minutes once daily).

  • Physical activity of the right duration and intensity at the appropriate frequency not only strengthens the heart and lungs, but it also helps reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. Perhaps the most common use being weight loss, also lowers your risk of heart disease or stroke.

  • Before starting any exercise program, consult a qualified healthcare provider. Contact a qualified health professional if pains or pressure in the left or mid chest area, left neck, shoulder, arm or jaw, breathlessness, dizziness, or chest pain occurs during physical exertion.


  • There are three ways to measure heart rate while exercising. An individual can take his pulse by placing the index and middle fingers directly under the ear and sliding them down until they are directly under the jawbone, pressing lightly. Start with zero on the first beat and count the beats for 10 seconds then multiply by six. It is recommended that individuals check their pulse frequently during your workout to make sure they are within their target heart rate zone.

  • Other ways of obtaining heart rate during a workout include buying a heart-rate monitor or taking a talk test. Theoretically, an individual should be able to carry on a conversation during his workout. If he is unable to talk and completely out of breath, he is working too hard.

Charts and Calculators

  • Calculating maximum heart rate (HRmax): This number may be calculated by subtracting one's age in years from the number 220.

  • Calculating the target heart rate (standard method): This is the most popularly used method for calculating heart beats per minute (bpm).

  • THR = HRmax × %Intensity

  • For someone with a HRmax of 180 working out at 50% Intensity: 180 × 0.50 = 90 bpm

  • Calculating the target heart rate (Karvonen method): The Karvonen Method is more accurate, factoring in resting heart rate (RHR).

  • THR = ((HRmax - HRrest) × %Intensity) + Hrrest

  • For someone with a HRmax of 180 and a HRrest of 70 at 50% intensity: ((180 - 70) × 0.50) + 70 = 125 bpm

  • Calculating the target heart rate (Zoladz method): An alternative to the Karvonen method is the Zoladz method, which derives exercise zones by subtracting values from HRmax. The following examples would be for someone with a HRmax of 180:

  • Easy exercise zone: 180 - 55 to 180 - 45 = 125 to 135 bpm

  • Tough exercise zone: 180 - 25 to 180 - 15 = 155 to 165 bpm

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to Selected references are listed below.

  1. Food and Nutrition Board/Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Washington, DC, National Academy Press.

  2. Pollock ML, Gaesser GA, Butcher JD, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand on the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 1998;30: 975-991.

  3. Roberts SB. Energy requirements of older individuals. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr., 1996;50 (suppl. 1): S112-S118. View Abstract

  4. Saris WH, Blair SN, van Baak MA, et al. 2003. How much physical activity is enough to prevent unhealthy weight gain? Outcome of the IASO 1st Stock Conference and consensus statement. Obes. Rev., 4: 101-114.

  5. Schoeller, D. Balancing energy expenditure and body weight. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 1998;68(4) (suppl.): 956S-961S. View Abstract

  6. Schofield WN. 1985. Predicting basal metabolic rate, new standards and review of previous work. Hum. Nutr. Clin. Nutr., 39C (suppl. 1): 5-41. View Abstract

  7. Withers RT, Smith DA, Tucker RC et al. 1998. Energy metabolism in sedentary and active 49- to 70-yr-old women. J. Appl. Physiol., 84: 1333-1340. View Abstract

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017