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How to Use a Heart Monitor

by Lisa Sefcik

Woman getting ready to run

A heart-rate monitor is a simple device no more cumbersome than your average wristwatch, but its technology is of great value to fitness buffs of all levels. Heart monitors work by giving a read out of your heart rate -- and this is valuable information for beginners who want to make sure that the intensity of their aerobic and fitness activities put them in a calorie-burning, fat-melting zone.

Using a Heart Rate Monitor:

  1. Determine your target heart rate. This is the specific range of how fast your heart should beat during aerobic exercise. Aim for 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR) if you're healthy and fairly active. Aim for a MHR of between 40 and 50 percent if you're just starting out.

  2. Put on your heart-rate monitor, making sure that the wrist strap is adjusted comfortably. If your heart-rate monitor is too loose, the contacts might not sit flush against your skin, and you won't get an accurate readout. Make sure your new heart-rate monitor is working appropriately by moving briskly and consulting the display to see if your heart rate increases.

  3. Engage in the aerobic activity of your choice. The readout will tell you if your heart rate is within your target zone. Some heart-rate monitors have alerts that warn you if you go under or over your target heart rate during exercise.

  4. Take advantage of the other features that your heart-rate monitor has to offer. Many double as stopwatches, and more sophisticated heart-rate monitors tell you how many calories and fat you've burned during the course of your exercise.


  1. Many heart monitors have features that will assess your target heart rate for you, but in case yours doesn't, here's how to do the math: First, subtract your age from 220; this is a rough estimate of your MHR. If you're exercising within 70 to 85 percent of your MHR, multiply your MHR by 0.7 and then by 0.85. Beginners should multiply this number by 0.4 and then by 0.5. These numbers give you the low and high range of your target heart rate and allow you to know what to look for when you're wearing your heart-rate monitor.

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