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The Truth About Heart Rate and Exercise

Do you really need to track your heart rate when you work out? Experts weigh in.

6. TRUE OR FALSE: Using a heart rate monitor can help boost your fitness level.

TRUE. Electronic heart monitors, typically consisting of a wristwatch-like display and an electrode-studded chest strap, are used by serious runners, cyclists, etc. while training and even during races. By providing accurate, real-time heart rate information, the monitors help athletes pace themselves.

But even if you're not preparing for a marathon or a century ride, using a heart rate monitor can help motivate you to exercise. How? By turning your regimen into a solitaire of sorts: Can your regimen lower your resting heart rate? Can you exercise at the same pace but get your heart to pump more slowly? Can you shorten the time it takes your heart rate to return to normal after a workout?

It's not easy to answer these questions when you take your pulse manually, but quite easy with a heart rate monitor.  "No one really needs a heart rate monitor," Fletcher says. "But some people love to play with these things, and that motivates them to exercise."

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Reviewed on October 23, 2009

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