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What You Need to Know About Running Heart Rate Zones

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 15, 2021

You’ve probably heard that you should get at least 30 minutes of activity each day to stay healthy. While there are many different guidelines suggested by various organizations, the CDC has an easy-to-follow recommendation for adults. 

You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity in a single week. This breaks down to 30 minutes of moderate activity or 15 minutes of vigorous activity five days each week. 

How do you determine whether an activity is moderate or vigorous? It’s all about your heart rate, and heart rate measurements vary by age. Once you understand the running heart rate zones, you can monitor your physical activity for level of intensity. 

Understanding Running Heart Rate Zones

Moderate activity. To consider a run moderate activity, your target heart rate should fall between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, then your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute. This would be the calculation for that age's moderate heart rate zone:

64% of maximum heart rate: 180 x 0.64 = 115 beats per minute‌

76% of maximum heart rate: 180 x 0.76 = 137 beats per minute

So, at the age of 40, an activity is moderate if your heart rate stays between 115-137 beats per minute. 

Vigorous activity. To consider a run vigorous activity, your target heart rate should fall between 77% and 93% of your maximum heart rate. Calculating this vigorous heart rate zone shows that:‌

77% of maximum heart rate: 180 x 0.77 = 139 beats per minute

93% of maximum heart rate: 180 x 0.93 = 168 beats per minute

At the age of 40, an activity is vigorous if your heart rate stays between 139-168 beats per minute.

Exercise Intensity During a Run

Your ideal heart rate zone depends on your activity goals. If you want a vigorous run, monitor your heart rate and increase the intensity when needed. Similarly, if your heart rate is too high, you may need to slow down to stay in a moderate or vigorous zone.

Understanding how you feel. You may consider the intensity of your exercise based on how you feel. While this is one way to measure intensity, it may not align with your target heart rate zones for running.

A run may feel very difficult if you’re a beginner, but it’s still a moderate exercise based on your heart rate. If you’re an avid runner, however, a run may seem easier when it is still a vigorous exercise based on your heart rate.

Compare it to your heart rate. Use a heart rate monitor like a fitness watch to keep tabs during a run. After the activity, you can compare how you felt to the heart rate recorded during your run. Over time, you may be able to estimate whether your run is moderate or vigorous based on how you feel.

Risks and Benefits of Running

Running is good for your overall health. It helps to maintain weight, improve your mood, and may even help you live longer. There are other great benefits, too.

Improve blood flow. When you run regularly, you improve your circulation. A strong blood flow delivers oxygen throughout your body faster. This is helpful for all of the functions of your muscles, brain, and vital organs. Over time, improved circulation can relieve the tiredness you may experience during everyday activities. 

Injury is possible. There are also risks associated with running. Common running injuries include:

  • Runner’s knee – pain you experience when your kneecap rubs against your thighbone
  • Achilles tendon – pain that happens within the tendons connecting your heel to your calf muscle 
  • Shin splints – pain in the front of your shinbones, often caused by the impact of your feet hitting the ground‌
  • Stress fractures – tiny breaks that happen in your bones, also from the impact of running 

Other Considerations

Alternate intensity. If running at a consistent pace isn’t sustainable, alternate running faster and slower. This transitions your heart rate between heart rate zones and ensures you have a break when you need it while building up endurance for longer runs.

Don’t forget strength training. Improve your endurance for running by completing strength training. The CDC recommends strength training at least two days per week in addition to cardio. Strength training activities include: 

  • Lifting weights 
  • Incorporating resistance bands
  • Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges 
  • Working in your yard with shovels to dig, weed, and plant‌
  • Yoga practices that incorporate strengthening positions

Show Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “How much physical activity do older adults need?,” “Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Running for health: Even a little bit is good, but a little more is probably better.”

Mayo Clinic: “Exercise intensity: How to measure it.”

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