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Exercise Column

How high can your HR go?

This is a common fear - particularly for individuals who have been diseased or haven't worked out much.

Assuming the person is healthy and has been cleared by their doctor for maximal exercise, it is unlikely you will do any damage from getting to the upper limit of your heart's capacity.

One's age-predicted HR max (220-age for males, or 226-age for females) is just that, a prediction. The equation has an error margin of + 10 - 15 beats per minute.

A lot of elder masters athletes have higher than age-predicted maximal heart rates since the equation is based primarily on a sedentary population, and the age-related drop in maximal HR is more a function of a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet than it is from aging.

Being active one's entire life allows for much of the deterioration caused by aging, and a sedentary lifestyle to be eliminated or dramatically reduced. I have friends who are competitive masters athletes who have been active for four or five or more decades HR max HRmax values well above the ageHR maxpredicted HRmax levels. One friend is 58 years-old and had a HR max HRmax (the highest HR he achieves during maximal exercise) of 186 bpm. This is 24 beats above his ageHR maxpredicted HRmax (220 - 58 = 162).

Your body has protective mechanisms to keep from damaging itself. As long as you heed those warning signs and cut back once there, you will do yourself no harm pushing to your limits. In time you will actually create new ones.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 3.04.06