Tech: Wear your heart on your sleeve

    Your heart beat is measured by the Apple Watch and other trackers. Jenneth Orantia explains how to use it for fitness.

    Your heart rate can be used for a lot more than just checking your pulse. The speed of your pulse or heart rate tells an interesting story as to the quality of your life. In other words, your pulse is the secret to your fitness level.

    If you’re looking at getting a fitness wearable but aren’t too sure about the benefits of knowing your heart rate, here’s how tracking your pulse can lead to a huge improvement in your performance.

    Measuring your current fitness level

    Your resting heart rate is an easy way to measure your level of fitness. It refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute while you’re at rest.

    According to exercise physiologist Dr Sven Rees, a normal resting heart rate is between 60-82 beats per minute (bpm). “Any higher than that and your heart is probably working too hard, which can lead to strokes or heart disease,” he explains.

    Generally, lower is better. “The lower your resting heart rate, the more fit you are, so keeping an eye on this can help you monitor changes in your fitness over time,” Rees said. “Extremely fit individuals often have resting heart rates below 60bpm, as their blood flow is far more efficient than average.”

    Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule. “Some types of medication can also cause a much lower resting heart rate,” Dr Rees said.

    Improving your heart rate

    If your resting heart rate is high, don’t despair. You can usually get it down into the healthy range in 4-6 weeks by including a cardio exercise routine into your schedule.

    Dr Rees recommends exercising at your target heart rate training zone for at least
    30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to help lower your resting heart rate. “A slower resting heart rate can indicate that your fitness has improved,” he explains. “Another indicator is a lower heart rate for the same workload. If you’re running the same distance at the same pace, your average bpm for that exercise will lower as you become fitter. If you track your heart rate, you’ll know if the exercise you’re doing is working and if your fitness is improving.”

    Calculating your target heart rate training zone

    To calculate your target heart rate zone, subtract your age from 220 and calculate 60-80% of that. For example, if you’re 30, you would subtract 30 from 220, which gives you 190. Multiply 190 by 0.6 and 0.8 to get a heart rate range of 114-152bpm.

    This is the heart rate range you should be aiming for when exercising, but it doesn’t consider your level of fitness. If you’re just starting out, aim for 50-60% instead.

    While it’s possible to measure your heart rate manually by feeling for your pulse and counting, you’re better off using a gadget. Slowing your exercise down to manually count your heart rate means your pulse will also slow down, giving you an inaccurate reading. The latest smart devices show your current heart rate at a glance, giving you the statistics mid-workout to ensure you’re training at the right intensity.

    Also, your heart rate is likely to vary throughout your workout, particularly if you’re training at different intensities, so you’re better off getting an average bpm for the entire session rather than doing a quick spot check.

    Lastly, trackers will automatically record your heart rate over time, helping you to gauge improvements in your fitness. With consistent cardio exercise, you should expect to see your average bpm lower when performing the same exercises.

    Heart rate tracking in practice

    The exercise intensity you’ll need to reach your target heart rate zone will depend on your current level of fitness.

    As a relatively fit office worker in my late 30s, I can get to the middle of my target training zone by going for a very brisk walk. When you train, aim to where you can just manage to hold a conversation without being breathless — a great excuse for walking with friends.

    When I was tracking my heart rate with the Apple Watch recently, I was able to see a quick improvement in my resting heart rate by increasing my exercise and making small lifestyle improvements, such as cutting back on coffee and alcohol and trying to get eight hours of sleep a night.

    I tracked my heart rate over time when doing a 5km run. Initially my average heart rate would be over 170bpm for a medium intensity jog. One month later I had pared this down to below 160bpm. This is still well above my target training zone, which peaks at 145bpm, so my first fitness goal this year is to shave another 10bpm off my average.

    Recommended devices

    There are plenty of devices that can accurately measure your heart rate, from chest straps and fitness bands through to smart watches and headphones.

    Apple Watch is the number one selling watch in the world, and as a result its heart rate sensor is the most used heart rate monitor in the world.

    The Apple Heart Rate app gives users deeper insights into their heart rate. Resting and walking heart rates are defined by using background readings and signals from the accelerometer. During workouts, you will see your average and highest heart rate reading, and the recovery rate tells you how quickly your heart rate drops after a workout. A lower resting heart rate and a shorter recovery time can be an indication of improved fitness.

    Apple Watch wearers can elect to receive heart rate notifications. If your heart rate remains above a chosen beats per minute (BPM) while you appear to have been inactive for a period of 10 minutes, your Apple Watch can notify you.

    The Huawei Watch 2’s workout app makes the smart watch vibrate every time you move into a different training zone. This efficient, effective feature keeps you aware of your training intensity while letting you stay focused on exercising.

    The BioConnected HR+ is a gadget and app combo that combines wireless
    Bluetooth headphones with a built-in heart rate monitor and a comprehensive app for tracking heart rate metrics and other workout data. It’s compatible with a variety of popular fitness apps such as Strava, RunKeeper and MapMyRun.