Monitor Your Way to a Healthy Heart and Better Body

Of the many fitness-oriented pieces of equipment available today, one the most effective is also one of the least understood. A heart rate monitor, however, is not a complicated device. In fact, it un-complicates a wieldy but essential fitness formula by putting the calculated answer right before your eyes. In so doing, it aids you in reaching your fitness goals more safely and quickly.

While calculating your heart rate during a workout can be accomplished manually, there are some inherent problems in tackling this task yourself. Fitness proponents suggest two self-measurement heart-rate methods, each with its own set of complications:

1. The "Perceived Exertion" method requires that you evaluate the level of your activity by means of a "talk test." In other words, at various stages throughout your workout, you are to measure your exertion by how easily you can utter a complete sentence. It goes something like this: If you can let loose a string of statements, or carry on a lengthy conversation with yourself, you're likely not working hard enough. If, on the other hand, you're huffing and puffing halfway through that sentence, you're probably working too hard. While the simplest to put into use, two difficulties plague this heart-rate measurement strategy: 1) You have to actually remember to implement the test at various stages throughout your workout, thereby distracting you from the task at hand; and 2) Exertion perception is in the eyes of the beholder, meaning human error is probable. That is, what a novice exerciser perceives as heavy breathing may be only moderate to an expert.

2. The mathematical method requires that you plug some values into the following formulas: (220 - Your age) * 0.60 = Your minimum target heart rate and (220 - Your age) * 0.80 = Your maximum target heart rate. For optimum benefits and safety, your heart rate should fall somewhere between these two numbers during continuous bouts of exercise. The obvious dilemma with this heart-rate measurement methodology is that it requires brainpower. (Who can think when they're concentrating on exercising?!) The underlying difficulty is that you must actually count your own pulse while active, another task riddled with the likelihood of human error.

A heart rate monitor eliminates all these margins of error by putting the tracking and calculations into the hands of an electronic device. Simply follow the instructions that come with your heart rate monitor to determine your target heart range then wear your monitor during any strenuous activity. The monitor takes care of all the details-think of it as your mini-fitness computer.

Regular use of a sound heart rate monitor will yield the following benefits:

• It's easy to use (just strap it on) and it's highly accurate (much more so than counting your own pulse).
• It enables you to concentrate on exercising rather than the logistics behind it.
• It allows you to watch your fitness level expand-when your heart rate decreases during equivalent training, your endurance is increasing.
• It prevents over- or under-training-by monitoring your heart rate, you can pick up the pace or decrease your intensity so your heart rate always stays within your target range.
• It allows you to pace yourself-especially important for endurance participants like marathoners and triathletes.