/ Maximum heart rates and ageing
I'm curious about people's views on this. I did the Yorkshireman half marathon on Sunday, and my heart rate was topping out at around 190 bpm at times. I'm 49, so this is way higher than it should be for a man of my age.
At the time I was totally in race mode and the idea of slowing down was a complete anathema. I've done a bit of reading since then and since thought that maybe I should have.
What do people think? I reckon I'm pretty fit for my age. Is it okay to push this occasionally?
No idea whether its good or bad but looking back on my last few runs im maxing out up around 190 on quite a few of them and hit 196 on the run leg of my last triathlon. Im 44 and relatively fit too.
While the 220 minus your age is not a bad way to estimate most people's max heart rate, it doesn't work for all. Over the years, I'd had many friends whose heart rates are way off the estimate above, however it has been pretty close for the majority. It's close for me.
I doubt you'd have been reaching your max heart rate on your half marathon - more likely nearer your anaerobic or lactate threshold - which will be less than your max.
If you really want to know your max heart rate then it's best to do a max heart rate test to establish my max heart rate. It's hard work and all of the usual caveats / warnings apply - such as seek advice from your doctor first. There's loads of stuff on the net about how to do a max heart rate test (for running).
It mustn't be anything to worry about, variations to the norm are quite common. My max last year during marathon training was 184 at age 58; I'd had a cardio checkup and everything was ok.
I'm in a similar position to you. My max HR on a fast 5k ramps up to ~200. On some hill climbs I can go over that by a few bpm. One of the chaps in my club is a heart surgeon. I mentioned it to him and he said that there is a natural limiting factor to heart rate. I.e. If you are running too fast, your heart cant keep up, so you slow down.
I mentioned it to my GP when I had a check up, and she googled it, in front of me, which I thought was a little disconcerting. She didn't order me to stop running or go for tests.
My take is that if I feel ok (excluding feeling like my lungs might explode), then its probably all right. If it isn't, then a massive heart attack will probably kill me pretty quickly.
I'm 47 with a max HR of 195 when cycling.
I'd rarely race with it topping out at much less than 190. I wouldn't worry about it. It's a very individual thing.
Hi Eric, I'm 55 and have a max HR of approx 186 on the bike. 180 feels ok for me, eg on the front of a group pulling for 10 mins at 178-180
Quite a friends I ride with of a similar age have been warned off going over 160 by doctors.
The various formulas are only a rough rule of thumb and the only way to find your max HR is to do a test. Warm up well, then do some hill repeats is a good way of finding your max HR. if you're healthy and trained then there is little/no health risk.
If you do more than one sport you may need to work out your training zones for that sport and you may find you need to work out the max for each sport, I can run comfortably at a heart rate that feels like a near death experience when cycling
How are you feeling?
Well, when I was out running I felt fantastic. It was only afterwards I thought it might have been ill-advised .
I'm not sure finding your max HR is much use - HR at lactate threshold or pace in different zones would be more beneficial I'd have thought.
> Well, when I was out running I felt fantastic. It was only afterwards I thought it might have been ill-advised .
If you 'felt fantastic' then the chances are you weren't running at maximum HR. I usually feel like I'm about to vomit on hill sprints
FWIW I'm 43, pretty fit and max at around 170 in races. However I'd worry more about how quickly you can recover from hard efforts.
Do you have any idea what your max was when you were younger to compare? And of course you can always go to your wellman clinic to have a check up and start keeping a baseline for heart rate resting vs activity and monitor how long to get back to normal resting.
> I can run comfortably at a heart rate that feels like a near death experience when cycling
Interesting, I can go much higher in short bursts on a bike. Max ever running is 214, on the sprint finish of a ~10k race. Max cycling is 245, just hammering it on a morning commute. Both were when I was a bit younger (~18) and I believe them both. I think the reason for the difference is that it is possible to put more power into a bike for short periods than I can achieve when sprinting. My anaerobic threshold is pretty much the same for both at ~175.
190 during a half marathon seems very high except perhaps at the end, you would almost certainly be over your anaerobic threshold. I'm more a flat runner but even on hills do you not aim to stick to a roughly constant effort (and therefore HR)?
"Max cycling is 245, just hammering it on a morning commute."
Blimey, I was never that keen to get to work!
I'm not very good at getting out of bed...
Comparing heart rates when my club has been out for a ride is interesting to the extent that it shows that everyone is different. A case in point is that at 'bowling along pace' I had a HR of 135 and the guy next to me, of a similar age, had 175. My wheels metaphorically come off at 168 - effectively the point at which I cease to function effectively for more than 15 seconds or so. He keeps churning along to about 220. Busting a gut riding up hill is about 158 or so. I'm 57 I think.
If you're over doing it, you'll know. My wife was worried and demanded that I go and see a doctor. He's a sports specialist GP and his view was that you've stress-tested your heart and its working fine. There are of course the anomalies such as the pro-footballers who collapse but those cases are way down in the thin end of the graph.
Some people have hearts like motorbike engines. They are small and pump fast. Some people have hearts like agricultural diesels that are big and go putt putt putt slowly. One person’s high heart rate will be barely ticking over for someone else. I have worked out my maximum by repeating some mile long runs up a hill and noting that it doesn’t go over a certain value no matter how much I am gasping, seeing spots and wanting to die.
Just be careful as otherwise you'll be known as 'flat line eric'...
220 - your age is a very very approximate figure!
I'm 61 and have a max heart rate of 189 running and 186 cycling. Been checked out thoroughly by the cardiologist and am assured I am completely fine.
56 here and with anything much over 180 death feels not only like an imminent possibility, but also an increasingly attractive option.
I’d be more interested in resting heart rate and recovery times. If the former is especially low (and not low because you’re near death!) it’s a good indication you can safely push your heart at the other end of the scale. Resting heart rates hardly alter with age either. Away from the figures, the bottom line is how did you actually feel? And not just during but at the end, shortly after finishing, a few hours later, the next day? They’re all good indicators of your body’s/heart’s ability to handle stress.
if resting heart rate don’t change with age. Why do all the fitness charts show a gradually increasing resting heart rate the older you get.
Unless there is a known cardiac issue, I would see no problem with pushing heart rate in such circumstances. Indeed to race to one's full potential, surely it is essential?!
As far as I'm aware, a high max HR is not in itself a cardiac issue, just a deviation from what the formula estimates for the average person. It doesn't mean you've gone over your max HR (this would be impossible), just that your maximum is higher than the average.
I too am on the high side of the formula. In my youth the machines with heart rate hand monitors in the gym would go into error and stop reading above 220bpm. In my late twenties I went for a run wearing a HR monitor where it hit 224bpm. But it's not something I worry about, and I no longer wear a HR monitor when exercising. I have fairly regular ECGs during annual medicals relating to my work, so I figure if there was an issue I would know about it by now!
p.s I expect to die doing something I love, probably cycling :-0
So for example on the basis of those tables, a “good” resting heart rate for a male at age 20 is 62-65 bpm. A “good” resting heart rate at age 65 is also 62-65 bpm. Obviously you might have your own personalised definition for those ranges eg excellent or average, but the figures would stay the same.
Funny, I was just pondering this kind of thing whilst wheezing up a hill in the Peak this afternoon.
(Pondering only - I've been routinely wearing a hrm for running for years, but have never done anything remotely scientific with the data. It's just a mildly interesting squiggly line to look at if I'm honest.)
I noticed that my heart rate was quite a bit lower than it would have been for a similar perceived effort a few years ago, and I've noticed before that my max heart rate seems to have come down a bit over the last few years too.
220-age was always about right for me, and seems to be bang on at the moment. I'm 51, and it feels like my heart is trying to climb out of my chest if my HR gets up into the high 160s. My resting heart rate was always relatively low and has dropped lower in the last few years. (Mid 50s a while back when I was a couple of stone heavier, low 40s now that I'm lighter, older and a wee bit fitter.)
Like the OP, I'm 99% sure I have nothing to worry about with my heart.
But, you know, middle aged man - can't help wondering a bit sometimes during the odd moment of hypochondria.
A question to the responders on the thread - particularly the older ones who have max heart rates up there way above 220-age: has your max remained steady, or is it gradually declining over time? Is it just the number that is inaccurate for you, or also the downward trend that the formula <constant - proportion of age> would suggest?
At 61 my resting HR of low 50s has been that since my 20s when I've been fit, if I get unfit it increases. My max HR has declined very gradually but not at the rate of 1 beat per year, I do believe in the 80:20 rule where I'll exercise 80% at sub 75% max HR and 20% at > 88% max HR. I do my thrshoild stuff on parkruns and on cycling in an 11 mile TT where I'm generally at 92% going up to 96%+ on the last sprint. I reckon keeping that threshold stuff going is important although I'll have a rest week every 4th week where I don't. Seems to work for me.
I don’t know - I’ve only used a HRM in the last few years.
Mine seems fairly static but I ride to work, ride often as well and ride hard as well as swimming so it’s maintained. Based on tests at Bath I am an outlier but it may all go off a cliff in a few years. Having said that there is a guy I ride with who is not far off me on the hills, consistently puts in higher averages on long solo rides than me and is 56. He does often ask how old I am before telling me that age does make a difference!
> Don’t worry, you’re probably just a fast beater like me (oh er). I’m 45 and when I go out and decide to get a KOM or two i’ll take mine up to ~200bpm for between 5-10 minutes. I think my max is 205. Some of us are just on the tails of the distribution
> p.s I expect to die doing something I love, probably cycling :-0
Your ps is an interesting one. I’ve never heard of anyone dying when cycling other than traumatically, but runners do? What’s the opinion on this?
That all sounds pretty scientific. Interesting, thanks.
No one mentioned as to what HR monitors were being used to measure the HR? Some of them are less accurate than others.
I was doing LTHR 3x2mi intervals last week, and the average HR for the mile splits were 159/162 (recovery @ 155), 171/179 (recovery @ 161) and 175/179. The strap of my Garmin Forerunner 645M was a notch too loose on the first interval.
> ... so it’s maintained.
It's interesting. You seem to be assuming that max heart rate is related to fitness here, but according to what I've read it doesn't really change with training much. Certainly nothing like as dramatically as resting heart rate does. And this thread seems to suggest it isn't necessarily an indicator of fitness.
Certainly my own experience points that way. I'm definitely fitter now than I was when I first started using a HRM and my maximum is probably 5-10bpm lower now than it was then, but then resting heart rate is also lower so perhaps my heart is bigger and more powerful now than it was then and doing more work with each beat.
Happily in my case getting less fit with increasing age is not inevitable. I was dreadfully out of shape through my 30s, have achieved a state of good solid mediocrity in my early 50s - at this rate I'll be in the best shape of my life some time around 70 odd.
I appear to be older than anyone who’s mentioned their age and I’ve stopped being concerned about my heart rate. I regularly hit over 200 and run several times a week. I don’t really care if it kills me.
I'm a bit like you, resting heart rate can be affected quite quickly by training. Its currently around 42. I'm 53.
Max heart rate is probably around 170, although I think I must have one of the lister diesel hearts as its difficult to make it beat really fast no matter how daft i behave, sorry i mean no matter how hard i run.
Heat makes a big difference for me. I can skittle along on a good run at HR of 130, but the same run on a hot day and 150 is more likely.
Worth mentioning that max HR also depends on freshness. There are days when I’ve done 400 miles in a week, or cycled a lot in the mountains, where I’d struggle to get mine above about 175.
I don’t think it’s a metric worth worrying about though. If you train to HR I would do it from threshold HR rather than max (although I don’t know how you establish that running).
You’ll only find out your true maxHR by doing a test.
Some people have small hearts that beat fast and others have large hearts that beat slowly. The fitter you get, the more efficient the heart becomes and slower it beats at rest.
If you’re older and your resting heart rate starts dropping for no apparent reason then see a cardiologist. I know a couple of runners who now have pacemakers.
> my heart rate was topping out at around 190 bpm at times. I'm 49, so this is way higher than it should be for a man of my age.
> What do people think? I reckon I'm pretty fit for my age. Is it okay to push this occasionally?
So as others have said, HR Max (MHR) is largely dictated by genetics - age and physical fitness play a part in individual changes over time, but there are no clear correlations between increases or decreases in MHR and fitness. Dread-i's heart surgeon pal also correctly points out that the body cannot physically sustain effort close to HR Max for very long at all; the response is simply to slow down or stop.
Cardiac stress tests have been mentioned. If you have concerns around your cardiac health and running, it might be worth asking your GP about this. I'd suspect in the absence of any personal or family history of cardiac disease that this wouldn't be strictly required, but of course this is the internet: your mileage may vary etc. etc.
Otherwise yes it's theoretically pretty safe to push your HR Max, but with the obvious caveat that it will be a hard training session. So don't go for this when tired from accumulated hard sessions, and ensure adequate recovery in terms of time and nutrition.
People are also correct in pointing out how resting HR (RHR) relates to physical fitness. In the absence of confounding factors e.g. certain cardiac dysfunctions; use of medications such as beta-blockers, resting HR provides a good general estimate of fitness.
RHR is also useful day to day for two main things:
- as a general guide for training when one feels unexpectedly crap. If after 10min at rest, RHR is >5% higher than normal, be careful.
- to determine HR training zones with better accuracy. Karvonen developed a system using Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) to better tailor aerobic training to individuals. It's evidence-based and currently seen as the gold standard. Good calculator for this here:
To get an accurate RHR, measure 3-4 times over 1 week where training is relatively easy and you feel well, and use this average. Measure in the morning before getting up out of bed. Breathe steadily and measure for at least 1min, preferably 2.
One final thought - did you get this HR Max reading from a wrist-based device, or a chest strap? Wrist-type devices are really, really inaccurate and can be badly affected by movement.
> Your ps is an interesting one. I’ve never heard of anyone dying when cycling other than traumatically, but runners do? What’s the opinion on this?
Didn't someone have a heart attack during ride London last year?
It does happen. A professional cyclist died during this year's Paris Roubaix.
I am 63 and my maximum HR when cycling is about 185. I find that I can maintain an HR of about 160 for a long time. Useful to pace myself when doing steep climbs. I can only maintain 185 for a few seconds.
> You’ll only find out your true maxHR by doing a test.
If a hungry lion appeared behind you part-way through your max HR test, you can be pretty certain you’d manage to achieve a higher maximum HR (and probably faster running speed) than if it wasn’t there.
Your “typical” max HR is maybe a more accurate way of phrasing it than “true”. The actual highest rate your heart is capable of in extremis is undoubtedly higher than anything it could get pushed to in any test.
My ps was slightly joking as I'm sure I'd have keeled over by now but, after blasting it the other day I was slightly concerned I'd given myself a hernia and it has occurred to me that while age should not limit you, you should be mindful of it. Sadly I am more like my aging border collie, still two at heart hence my slight concern
Deepsoup, you're absolutely right, I think I was mixing comfort at these rates, recovery and resting HR rather than absolute limits.
> I appear to be older than anyone who’s mentioned their age and I’ve stopped being concerned about my heart rate. I regularly hit over 200 and run several times a week. I don’t really care if it kills me.
I love your devil may care attitude, here's to smashing it, I know how I'd like to go out!
> Your ps is an interesting one. I’ve never heard of anyone dying when cycling other than traumatically, but runners do? What’s the opinion on this?
A friend died from heart attack cycling (training for an Ironman) in his mid thirties, leaving behind two small kids. The fathers of two of my friends died in their fifties resp. sixties, falling off their bikes with heart attacks while cycling to work. Both were outwardly fit and healthy.
In the same group of friends and acquaintances nobody died in a cycling accident or crash, even though quite a few came rather close.
I know a bunch of anecdotes do not make a statistic, but heart related deaths while cycling are not unheard of, even in normal circumstances (i.e. not Tom Simpson on Ventoux)
No. That’s not quite how it works. Your heart rate isn’t proportional to your effort. Once it’s maxed out it’s maxed out. You’ll see this on the HR trace.
It max’s out when you go anaerobic and you can only go anaerobic for a few seconds.
But, that’s not what you were saying is it and I think you’re right about the proportional thing.
Yes. You can probably hold 200 for around 12 minutes.
When you hit your max, it just won’t go any higher regardless of how much more effort you put in. And you can put more effort in. When you do a test you will see your max reached before you reach your maximum speed and I’ve also seen my HR increase AFTER I’ve stopped running.
I don’t know what you mean by “go aerobic” but in what I understand to be the definition, where lactate accumulates quicker than it can clear, one can certainly operate at that level for more than a few seconds. According to Training Peaks, my anaerobic zone starts at 345 watts - I can hold that for 7:20, and 500w I can hold for 1:30.
I haven’t had my HRM long but even flat out uphill I won’t get above the 180’s. Tonight’s run included a dam wall climb to failure and I maxed out at 183. I can’t imagine how it feels to go 200!
Sorry I meant fully anaerobic. You’ll only be able to exercise for a few 10s of seconds. Maybe a 400m or 800m sprint.
Your anaerobic ‘zone’ will be anything above ‘threshold’, where, as you say, lactate forms quicker than you can clear it. There’s still a large element of aerobic expertise going on there. At the very top when it’s purely aerobic is when you’ll hit maxHR.
It’ll feel no different. If you’re at 200 and your maxHR is 200 you’ll feel just as bad as someone whose maxHR is 180 and they’re at 180.
As a previous poster suggested. You need a few conditions to be met to hit Max. You need to be fully rested for several days beofehand. Training effect will reduce your ability to run hard. You need to be properly warmed up and make two or three attempts at maxing out. You need to be fully trained.
When you first start out your heart will out beat your muscles as your untrained muscles will give up well before your heart reaches its maximum. Mentally you’ll also struggle to push really hard as it will feel like you are actually dying. You need to feel like that a few times to realise you’re not, and you can actually push harder.
Thanks, Toby ! I ran 8k tonight and only registered 158 so I guess that’s better. Good luck with your running !
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