Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Honest Workout: Heart Rate Monitors

People in the statin ads often talk about how diet and exercise didn’t work for them.  I wonder whether these are the same people whose doctors are telling them that moderate exercise is enough and to “know your limits.”  Some doctors and even some trainers discourage older people from trying to do strenuous exercise, apparently motivated by fear of injury to the patient/ client or concern about liability for themselves. 

Moderate exercise never worked for me.  I spent years trying to improve my physical condition by brisk walking, swimming laps, or working out on an elliptical at a medium pace.  Nothing happened:  I didn’t lose weight or become stronger and my overall condition stayed about the same.  Eventually I concluded that these workouts were not hard enough to make a real difference.

How can you tell if you’re getting a good cardio workout?  You can’t unless you use a heart rate monitor.  If you work out on a machine that reads chest straps (and most of the newer ones do), youcan get by with just a chest strap.  If you don’t use a machine or you want more features you will need a watch to go with it.  Many of these are made by Polar Electro – USA.  I bought one on EBay about ten years ago and it still works fine.  Periodically I send it to the Polar Service Center for a new battery and they get it back to me right away.  My watch has some extra features like a log for keeping track of your workouts and a fitness test but I don’t use them much. 

The most commonly used formula for calculating maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. When I first started doing serious exercise at age 54 I would go as fast as I could on the elliptical and my heart rate would never get much above 125 beats per minute or about 75% of my maximum heart rate of 166 bpm.  I think part of the problem was that at that point my muscles weren’t strong enough to do a harder workout.  After I started using a protein supplement and, later, proteolytic enzymes, the situation improved.  These days I do intervals alternating 4 minutes at 132 bpm with 3 minutes at 142 bpm, averaging around 137, just under 90% of my current maximum heart rate of 155.  On a day when I am tired or not feeling well I may not get much above 130; if I get down to 125 I will lose condition and start putting on weight

The thinking about exercise for older people may be starting to change.   The Personal section of the Wall Street Journal (6/28/2011) had an article about how some doctors are using intense interval training for patients recovering from a heart attack or cardiac surgery. 

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