Life isn't measured in minutes, but in heartbeats

Access to data is different from being able to interpret it and extract actionable information from it.

Life isn't measured in minutes, but in heartbeats
Photo by Luismi Sánchez / Unsplash
Access to data is different from being able to interpret it and extract actionable information from it.

Wearables are now becoming mainstream, and if you don't have one you know someone that does, with their best known measurement probably being Heart Rate.

However, when I talk with people owning wearables with Heart Rate capabilities I am often surprised to hear that they rarely look at this data. It often serves as no more than a mere curiosity in the first week of use, just to be irreversibly demoted  to a back screen never to be seen again. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised...

Access to data is different from being able to interpret it and extract actionable information from it. In between work, family and finally sorting out that hard drive, who has time?

Sure, in the future that shiny smart watch of yours will come with a digital knowledge upload that you load into your consumer-grade, "Matrix- styled", brain-link to instantly become a heart rate expert (and probably "earn" a bloody nose). That said, this is still a tad bit beyond the horizon (what's taking so long Elon!), so you are left with learning the old fashion and time consuming way...

Resting Heart Rate

One of the readily available metrics that can be extracted from your Heart Rate data is Resting Heart Rate.

Adults resting heart normally ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) and a lower resting heart rate is indication that your heart is healthy and working effectively. As a reference top athletes heart rates are often closer to 40 bpm.

That said, having a low resting heart rate is not necessarily good. If you are physically unfit, and have a resting heart rate is consistently well below 60 bpm -a condition known as bradycardia-  it may be an indication of a medical condition and you should see your doctor.

At the other end of the spectrum, if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 bpm, a condition known as tachycardia, this may also be indication of an underlying condition and you should go and talk with your doctor about it.

Be aware that your resting heart rate is influenced by multiple factors, including: age, fitness and activity levels, being a smoker, having cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or diabetes, air temperature, body position, body size, medications, or even your mood.

Is best to just keep an eye on your average long term resting heart rate and ensure it is within the 60-100 bpm range, as a minimum. At Kognitas we can help you track this.

Ideally, you want your resting heart rate somewhere around 60 bpm, with the exact rate dependent of factors like your age, gender and level of physical activity. The Heart Rate monitor will allow you to track improvements in your cardiovascular health, which can be achieved with diet and exercise .

Estimated Maximum Heart Rate

Your Estimated Maximum Heart Rate, a.k.a. HR Max, is the maximum rate at which your heart can beat, but not in a sustained way. The most accurate way to find this is to perform a cardiac stress test, for example by running on a treadmill while connected to heart rate monitors.

There are numerous formulas to estimate your theoretical maximum heart rate from your age. These are convenient and very easy to use, but you should be aware that there is a huge variation in maximum heart rate for individuals of the same age and even same fitness level. Your real maximum heart rate could well be 10 or even 20 heart beats above or below what these formulas predict, since they are based on statistics. These values are the best-fitting curve to a sample of subjects as a function of age, so that the value is the average for that age.

One important practical reason for wanting an estimate of your maximum heart rate is to know how long you spend in different cardio zones, and what this means to your health and exercise goals (more below...).

The original formula is still the most widely used: HR max = 220 - your age in bpm. As an example, if you are 45 your maximum heart rate is 220 - 45 = 175 bpm. However, more recent studies have found different formulae, and in addition there is considerable scatter: in short, do not take this value too literally and listen to how your body feels when training. Now we have an estimate for HR max, we can use it to train at the intensity appropriate for our goals, which can range from losing fat to running races at a particular pace.

Cardio Zones

Knowing your HR Max and using your HR meter you can figure out how much time to spend in the so called cardio zones.

The different cardio zones are no more than ranges of heart rates determined as percentages of your HR Max. To illustrate this, cardio Zone 3 is the range between 70-80% of your HR Max, taking the example above of 175 bmp HR Max this would mean you would be in cardio zone 3 if your Heart Rate measurement is between 112.5-140 bpm.

Now the real interesting thing about cardio zones is that each has different effects on your body & metabolisms, and also in terms of fitness improvements as you can see in the chart below:

from the Y

Depending on your level of fitness and your health objectives you define your routines & exercise to hit certain cardio targets, with each target defined to improve different aspects of your health & fitness: from losing weight to running those 23 miles for the 1st time.

Putting this into practice, if your objective is just to loose the "muffin tops" you can adjust your routines & exercise so you maximise the amount of time you spend in cardio zone 2 (60-70% of your HR Max). This is because in this cardio zone your body is more efficient at metabolising fat and will use it as its preferred fuel source. Do note that you can also lose weight at higher intensity cardio rates.

Word of caution: losing the "muffin tops" will also require you to stop eating so many muffins...

If your objective is running a long distance race at a particular pace, the training plan you will follow will most likely include many sessions around zones 2 and 3, but will also include a fraction of the sessions in zones 4 and 5.

Remember that your estimate of HR Max from the equation has a large uncertainty. If when determining the cardio zones this value feels too high (you are struggling too much), then go slower. If it feels way too easy, you can go harder. However, understand what you are supposed to feel in each zone: for example zones 4 and 5 are supposed to be hard.

No "Golden Zone"

As you  probably figure out by know there is not a single cardio zone we must all train at, it depends on the purpose you are training for. The reality is that your heart rate will reflect your lifestyle, health, habits and routines. Some habits are difficult to change (for example if you sit in front of a PC to work), while others can definitely be improved (if your exercise routine is scrolling your Netflix library).

The hard reality is that most of the world population lives very sedentary lifestyles and our lack of physical activity has been directly linked to a lot of the non-communicable diseases that plague our era: diabetes, kidney disease, cancers, dementia, etc.

This is where exercise comes to the rescue: the World health Organisation recommends exercise as a way of reducing non-communicable disease with the following guidelines for adults, and this is where we link exercise with your heart rate!

1. Perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week (70-80% HR Max), or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week (80-90% HR Max), or an equivalent combination of intensity.

2. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.

3. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (70-80% HR Max) to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (80-90% HR Max) per week, or an equivalent combination of intensity.

4. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

Remember that if you determined your maximum heart rate from the formula mentioned earlier, rather than by carrying out a cardiac stress test, you will only have an estimate. Hence do follow the numbers too literally, but rather listen to your body. Training in cardio zone 3 (70-80% HR Max), for example, should feel relatively easy. You should be able to talk while training, or to breathe only through your nose. Depending on your level of fitness, cardio zone 3 might correspond to walking, and not actual running. If you are out of breath, you are above zone 3, no matter what the meter says.

No "one-fits all"

Now, it all sounds simple, but rarely is... How to start? What exercise to do? When to do it? How the hell am I going to fit exercise in my chaotic life!!!

Yep! Been there, done that, got the ugly and overpriced T-shirt from that gym I barely went to...

The sad truth is that the Why is rarely the problem, the challenge often comes with the What and the How.

This is where Kognitas can help you, we will extract actionable data from your wearables, convert your goals to cardio targets and provide you with a set of simple and effective ways to reach your cardio goals, be that just increasing your physical activity during the day in very small chunks, or help you finding the activity that finally clicks and brings you not only health but joy, you decide the goal & the way.

Ready? Join Kognitas today!

Takeaways

  1. Ensure your long-term Resting Heart Rate is between 60-100 bpm, ideally around 60 bpm;
  2. Estimate your HR Max and determine your cardio target to achieve your goals.
  3. Perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week (70-80% HR Max), or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week (80-90% HR Max), or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
  4. Increase activity from these recommendations for additional health benefits.
  5. Find your What & How... or Join Kognitas :)