Our heart rate is measured in beats per minute (BPM). And we all have a resting heart rate, but what is max heart rate? And how does it affect us as we get older?
Throughout each day, our beats per minute vary drastically – they increase during physical activity and stress, and decrease during rest and relaxation.
The harder we work or exercise, the more our beats per minute climb. Of course, there is a limit to everything, and that also includes our BPM. Eventually, we reach what is known as our max heart rate.
How to Calculate Max Heart Rate (MHR)?
Maximum heart rate, as the term suggests, is the limit of how quickly our heart can beat within a minute. It is the beats per minute of our heart, and it’s also known as our pulse.
The most common way to calculate our MHR is to remove our age from the number 220.
MHR = 220 – (your age)
So, for example, if you’re 40 years old, your heart rate would be about:
220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute
Of course, we are all different, and this formula is not bulletproof. It does, however, give us a starting point and a very good general guide. But it takes a bit of testing and tweaking until we can find our actual MHR value.
A common question folks have about our heart rate is if the value differs from our pulse. The answer is no, both our heart rate and pulse refer to the same thing – the number of contractions the heart makes within a minute.
How Your MHR Changes Over Time
Contrary to popular belief, our max heart rate is not a constant value – it tends to change over time. For the most part, we have two factors that affect our MHR the most:
1. Age Affects Max Heart Rate
As we get older, our MHR will decrease. The formula we reviewed above does a perfect job of illustrating that. If your MHR is about 200 at age 20, it will be somewhere around 160 at age 60. (1)
2. Training Level and Max Heart Rate
While research here is yet to unravel the entire relationship between training status and MHR, some researchers hypothesize that the more trained we become, the higher our MHR gets.
So, in that sense, a well-trained 30-year-old man might have a higher (or similar) MHR as a 20-year-old sedentary individual.
Another factor that impacts your maximum heart rate is your genetics. No matter what your age and training level are, you might have favorable genetics and have a naturally higher MHR.
|Zone||% of MHR||Workout Intensity||Description|
|Zone 5||90-100%||Maximum Intensity||Helps fit athletes increase speed; Very short durations|
|Zone 4||80-90%||Anaerobic||Increases Max Performance; Shorter durations|
|Zone 3||70-80%||Aerobic||Improves aerobic conditioning|
|Zone 2||60-70%||Weight Control||Improves endurance and fat burning; longer durations|
|Zone 1||50-60%||Warm-up||Improves overall health; ideal for warm-up and recovery|
Is There a Minimum Heart Rate?
Okay, so we’ve given our max heart rate a thorough look. But what about the opposite – the minimal heart rate. Is there such a thing?
For the most part, yes. Heart rate below 60 beats per minute is classified as bradycardia – a severe condition. But, physically active folks often tend to have a resting heart rate below 60 beats per minute. For example, the resting heart rate of top athletes is in the 45 to 50 range. (2)
Lance Armstrong reportedly once had a resting heart rate of 32, which is a truly staggering number that highlights the elite level of his fitness. For the average and sedentary individual, that would be indicative of impending doom. But for Lance, that was normal thanks to his elite conditioning.
Does Our Resting Heart Rate Indicate Anything?
Much like your MHR, the RHR can vary quite a lot between individuals. For the most part, a heart rate of about 60 BPM is an indicator of general health and fitness. A little less and a little more is fine, too. But, if it gets to be too far north or south from 60, that could be an indicator of something serious. Well, unless you’re a professional endurance athlete.
A resting heart rate that is too high can be classified as tachycardia, and the person may need medical attention and tests to determine the underlying cause.
Know Your Max Heart Rate
Knowing what is max heart rate for you or someone you’re training is an important number to know. Training zones and exertion levels are often defined by your heart, so understanding your maximum can be an important consideration in your fitness goals. And of course knowing how to calculate max heart rate is a must.
- ScienceDaily. (2013). Why does maximum heart rate drop with age? ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014155744.htm.
- Solan, M. (2020). Your resting heart rate can reflect your current and future health. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-resting-heart-rate-can-reflect-your-current-and-future-health-201606172482.