Calculating your fat-burning heart rate

Your heart rate can help you measure the intensity of your exercise. For most people, the heart beats between times a minute while at rest. Heart rate increases during exercise. The harder you exercise, the more your heart rate will increase.

When you work out in your fat-burning heart rate zone, the idea is that your body taps into fat stores for energy instead of using basic sugars and carbohydrates. This leads to fat loss. Other heart rate zones are:

  • resting heart rate
  • moderate heart rate
  • target heart rate
  • maximum heart rate

Your fat-burning heart rate is at about of your maximum heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate is the maximum number of times your heart should beat during activity. To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.

For example, a 35-year-old woman’s maximum heart rate is 220 minus 35 — or 185 beats per minute.

To enter the fat-burning zone, she’d want her heart rate to be 70 percent of 185, which is about 130 beats per minute.

Calculating other heart rate zones

Experts recommend working at percent of your maximum heart rate during vigorous activity. This is known as your target heart rate.

There is also a moderate heart rate that falls between percent of your maximum heart rate.

Fat-burning heart rate chart

When using the following chart, keep in mind that the older you are, the lower your fat-burning heart rate. So if you are 32, you’d want to use the higher number in the 31 to 35 range for your fat-burning heart rate.

Certain medications may affect your heart rate, too, so speak with your doctor if you have concerns.

AgeEstimated fat-burning heart rate in beats per minute

Tools to measure heart rate

There are a variety of tools on the market today that can help you measure your heart rate during exercise and even while doing your everyday tasks. That said, you don’t necessarily need anything fancy to get your basic heart rate.

Traditional tracking

The cheapest way to measure your heart rate is to use your fingers to track your pulse. You’ll first need to stop exercising and place your finger over a pulse point on your neck, wrist, or chest.

Count your heartbeats for (or for 30 seconds and multiply the number of beats by two). The number you get is your heart rate.

Wrist monitor

Wristband heart rate monitors have become popular in recent years because they strap onto the body just like a normal watch.

For example, the records your pulse all day and determines if you are in your fat-burning, resting, moderate, or maximum zone during different activities.

The advantage over traditional tracking is that your heart rate is continuously monitored and there’s no need to stop activity to record it.

Often, these types of devices also measure your daily steps, distance of workouts, calories burned, and floors climbed, all while giving you the time like a regular watch.

Chest strap monitor

Chest strap heart rate monitors strap around your chest and record your heart rate during exercise.

Some brands, like , then wirelessly send your heart rate to your compatible device, usually a watch, to get a more holistic view of your workout. These straps are made of a soft fabric and are adjustable to fit a variety of body sizes.

You can wear chest strap monitors during most activities, including swimming. Read all features carefully before purchasing, however. Some devices are waterproof, meaning they can be submerged in water. Others are water-resistant, which means they can be used for only short periods in the water.

What works best?

Some athletes prefer chest strap monitors because they feel they are more accurate. In a recent , however, researchers discovered that wrist monitors may be just as accurate.

As a result, the monitor you choose may come down to personal preferences, your exercise of choice, budget, and any features the specific device has.

Choosing a fat-burning workout

The best workouts to get you into your fat-burning zone vary from person to person. The key is to monitor your heart rate during different activities to see where you land and go from there.

For fat-burning, stick with moderate activity. Try the if you’re unsure how hard you’re working. Basically, if you can’t talk during your exercise, you are likely working at vigorous levels. If you are slightly out of breath, but can maintain a conversation, you’re likely working at moderate levels and may be in your fat-burning zone.

Another way to determine your exercise intensity is by your individual capacity. Moderate, fat-burning activities may feel like an of your capacity on a scale from 1 to 20. If you start feeling like you’re more at 17 to 19, slow down — this is more vigorous activity.

Here are some exercises that may help you reach your fat-burning zone:

  • slow jogging
  • brisk walking
  • water aerobics
  • cycling (under 10 miles per hour)
  • tennis (doubles)
  • ballroom dancing

While you may be focused on fat, it’s still important to elevate your heart rate into the vigorous zone from time to time. Working harder strengthens your cardiovascular system and burns more calories than moderate activity.

Interval training, like alternating periods of walking and running, is also an that can help you lose fat and increase your cardiovascular fitness.

Other ways to lose fat

Besides exercise, there are other healthy habits you can start that may help you lose fat and reduce your overall weight.

Eat a diet that focuses on whole foods

Fruits and veggies should make up a lot of your plate. Whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy are other good choices. Try shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, and avoiding added sugar and saturated fat that’s found in packaged foods.

Drink plenty of water

Juice and soda has added sugar and calories. If you don’t like plain water, consider flavoring it with artificial sweetener or a squeeze of lemon.

Take a look at portion sizes

Restaurants tend to give overly generous portions, so consider asking to have half your meal packaged up before you dig in. At home, choose a smaller plate for your meals. For example, serve your food on a salad-sized plate instead of a dinner-sized one.

Aim for slow and steady weight loss

Losing more than a week may not be healthy or sustainable. Your doctor can help you determine your own weight loss goal and refer you to a dietitian for help.

The takeaway

If you’re new to activity, take it slow. The American Heart Association recommends working at a moderate intensity (at ) to help you avoid injury and burnout before increasing your intensity.

You’ll be able to up the intensity of your exercise in time and see even more cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits. Consistency and hard work pay off.

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