Maximum Heart Rate - Understanding Your Maximum Heart Rate

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If you've spent any time exercising, you've probably heard something about working in your target heart rate zone to burn the most calories.

A big part of that calculation involves your Your maximum heart rate (MHR), which is the fastest rate at which your heart will be in one minute. You might wonder why you need to know this number and, unless you track your heart rate during exercise using a heart rate monitor, you may not have any need to calculate your MHR.

If you do track your intensity, the typical formula for calculating your maximum heart rate is: 220-age.

We used that formula for years and years until experts realized that this formula it doesn't reflect the differences in heart rate according to age. There's also a suggestion that using that formula to calculate heart rate could give you numbers that are way off, maybe by as much as 12 beats per minute up or down.

That's a huge gap.

Luckily, these experts came up with a more accurate formula, offered in a study published in the Journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Your Maximum Heart Rate Formula:

206.9 - (0.67 x age)

Facts About Your Maximum Heart Rate

  • Your MHR is determined by your genes
  • MHR is usually higher in smaller people, which is why women often have a higher MHR than men
  • Altitude can lower your MHR
  • MHR has nothing to do with how fit you are and doesn't reflect your level of fitness
  • Your MHR does not decline with age, but it can decline if you become unfit
  • MHR can vary significantly even among people of the same age and gender
  • Training doesn't really change your MHR and, if there is any change, it may get lower as your body experiences expanded blood and stroke volumes

Figure Out Your Exercise Intensity Using MHR

If you use the calculation above, you come up with a number that equals that max amount of beats your heart will beat in one minute.

  Using that information, you can actually figure out how hard to work during exercise based on your level of fitness.

  • If you're very sedentary with no exercise at all, you should work at 57-67% of your MHR
  • If you engage in minimal activity, you should work at 64-74% of your MHR
  • If you sporadically exercise, you should work at 74-84% of your MHR
  • If you regularly exercise, you should work at 80-91% of your MHR
  • If you exercise a lot at high intensities, you should work at 84-94% of your MHR


Let's use me as an example.  Here's how my formula would look to calculate my MHR:

(206.9) - (0.67 x 28)

I'm not really 28, but let's just stay with this fantasy.  Using that, my MHR is: 188 beats per minute.

Let's say that I'm working at the highest level of exercise.  That means I would need to work at 84-94% of 188.  That comes out to 157 to 176 bpm.

Find out more about how to use your MHR to calculate your heart rate zones in these resources:


    Jackson, Andrew S. Estimating Maximum Heart Rate From Age: Is It a Linear Relationship? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 39(5):821, May 2007.


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