What to Know: Heart Rate for Fat-Burning Vs. Cardio

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 24, 2022
5 min read

Exercising can be a difficult task or an enjoyable hobby. However you look at it, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts. Exercising at the right intensity will make sure you’re pushing yourself the right amount. If you’re working out for weight loss, you’ll want to work out at a higher intensity. That will help you burn more calories.

Cardio, also called aerobic exercise or endurance exercise, has many health benefits. Getting moderate-to-vigorous cardio workouts in each week can add up and help improve your heart health. 

Aerobic exercise includes activities like: 

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Jogging 
  • Rowing
  • Stairclimbing
  • Spinning

Cardio is one of four exercise categories along with strength, balance, and flexibility. Cardio improves your overall fitness, but it’s especially crucial for a healthy heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Cardio can improve your health is by reducing your risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  

When measuring exercise intensity, you’ll consider how you feel and your actual heart rate. 

How do you feel? The first way to measure the intensity of your workout is by taking note of your perceived exertion. This differs from person to person. What may seem like a difficult run to one person could feel like a simple jog to another. This is a subjective measure of how your workout is going. 

Heart rate. Measuring the intensity of your workout with your heart rate is a more objective way to look at it. The higher your heart rate while working out, the higher your exercise intensity is. This also means you’re more like to achieve fat burning in your exercises.

An activity tracker can track your heart rate for fat burning and cardio. These wrist monitors will help you keep track of your perceived exertion and how that correlates with your heart rate. This will help you get a better idea of when you’re actually in a fat-burning state.

To know your desired target heart rate, you must calculate your maximum heart rate. To do this, start by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you're 30 years old, subtract 30 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 190. This number is the most your heart should beat per minute while you're exercising. 

The American Heart Association recommends a target heart rate of 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate during moderate exercise. They recommend 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous exercise intensity. 

You should aim for the lower end of your target heart rate zone if you're starting an exercise routine. Then, as you condition your body and heart, you can build up your intensity.

Maintaining a moderate-to-vigorous exercise intensity will get you into the fat-burning heart rate zone. As a part of fat loss, strength training helps boost your metabolic rate. This means you'll burn more calories at rest compared to if you don't work out. A higher metabolic rate helps your burn more calories during the day, even after your workouts. 

Fat is burned during every exercise session, so the more you work out, the more you’ll see cardiovascular improvements. The amount of fat burned is determined by your intensity level and duration. 

The more you work out, the more you build stamina, and the more you can push yourself to reach a higher cardio heart rate. This is when your heart rate reaches the aerobic level, which pushes your heart rate toward a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate. 

Once you can comfortably reach your cardio heart rate, your heart is getting stronger. Cardio exercise is excellent for your heart and metabolic health. Cardio can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. 

Your different heart rate zones are determined by the percentage of your maximum heart rate. If you're exercising too close to your maximum heart rate, this could place an unhealthy strain on you. 

Knowing the difference between fat-burning heart rate and cardio heart rate can help you understand how much you should push yourself in different exercises. Reaching your target heart rate zones more efficiently then helps improve your cardiovascular health. 

The different exercise heart rate zones are based on training levels connected to your maximum heart rate. Your heart rate can be broken down into three zones: 

Lower-intensity zone. This zone is when you're working at 50% to 60% of your maximum heart rate. In this zone, you're burning fewer calories, but you can sustain this rate for longer. 

Fat-burning zone. Also called the temperate zone, you're using 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate when exercising at this intensity. Typically, about 65% of the calories you burn in this zone are from fat. 

Aerobic (cardio) zone. This is the highest level of intensity. You're using about 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. At this heart rate, only 45% of your burning calories are fat. However, you're burning more calories than you are in the other two zones. While you're not burning the maximum amount of fat calories, you're improving your overall health. You're likely not able to sustain the aerobic heart rate for long periods of time.

Your maximum heart rate is only a guide. You may have a higher or lower maximum heart rate. If you want to discover your specific range, you can talk to your doctor or personal trainer about calculating your target heart rate zones. If you're on certain medications intended to lower your blood pressure, your maximum heart rate may also be lowered. Talk to your doctor before starting a vigorous exercise routine.

By being mindful of how you feel and your target heart rate zones, you'll be able to get the most out of your exercises. Make sure you don't push yourself too hard, too fast. Building your stamina and improving your heart health is important for safe workouts.