When you’re focusing on your fitness, your maximum heart rate is an important number to know and understand. Your max heart rate is the rate your heart can safely achieve during periods of stress, activity and exercise. Note, the intentional use of the word “achieve”. It is not the number that you should expect to “sustain” for lengthy periods of time.
“Working in your target heart rate zone is a strong indicator that you are getting the most benetfitfrom your exercise.
When you exercise, staying within your target heart rate zone ensures that you’re getting the most from your routine and not overworking your heart. However, unlike blood pressure or weight, your maximum heart rate is not a static figure; it declines gradually and steadily with age. For this reason, a younger person’s heart can rise to the challenge to pump faster than an older person’s heart – proving that there is truth behind the adage “slowing down” as you get older.
What Is Your Maximum Heart Rate?
Maximum heart rate is determined by subtracting your age from 220. During exercise, the American Heart Association recommends that your heart rate falls within a recommended target heart rate zone. That zone is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, defined by your age.
For example, a 20-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 200 beats per minute (on average); the heart rate should fall between 100 and 170 beats per minute during exercise to hit the target heart rate zone recommendation. By contrast, a 70-year-old person has a maximum heart rate of 150 beats per minute; the heart rate should lie between 75 and 128 beats per minute when in the target heart rate zone.
So there’s no surprise to athletic performance falling off as we age. Not only does strength slowly decline, but so does the pace of the engine that runs the system.
Why the Decline in Maximum Heart Rate?
The heart is a magnificent and hard-working organ, but like all other parts of the body, it is subject to change and declines in function with age. While resting heart rate changes very little over time despite age, maximum heart rate gradually plummets. Although age-related decline isn’t fully understood, researchers believe that pacemaker cells in the heart slow down with age, causing this natural decline in maximum heart rate and limiting the older heart in its ability to speed up and pump faster.
Aging brings changes in the heart and the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. Research unfolding from the University of Colorado School of Medicine suggests that aging causes a depression in the electrical activity of the heart’s sinoatrial node, which is the heart’s built-in pacemaker. Researchers recorded activity of individual pacemaker cells in both young and old mice. Results showed that signaling molecules in the ion channels in the cells of the older mice exhibited altered behavior, likened by Science Daily as tiny pinholes allowing air out of an inflated balloon. Researchers believe this finding might allow for eventual development of drugs that can slow the age-related loss of aerobic capacity.
Improving Aerobic Capacity
While evolving knowledge of the aging heart may make it possible to stave off maximum heart rate decline in the future, it is possible to maintain or even improve aerobic capacity at any age through physical exercise, researchers say.
“It is possible to maintain or even improve aerobic capacity at any age through physical exercise.”
The National Institute on Aging recommends discussing the types of physical activity that are appropriate for your particular state of health with your doctor, aiming for moderate to intense activity for a minimum of 30 minutes per day on most days. Gardening, dancing, walking and other activities, when done even in 10-minute bouts, can help to keep the heart healthy and strong, no matter your age.