Women who measure their peak heart rates for exercise will need to do some new math, as will physicians giving stress tests to patients.  A new formula based on a large study from Northwestern Medicine provides a more accurate estimate of the peak heart rate a healthy woman should attain during exercise. It also will more accurately predict the risk of heart-related death during a stress test.

“Now we know for the first time what is normal for women, and it’s a lower peak heart rate than for men,” said Martha Gulati, MD, assistant professor of medicine and preventive medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine. “Using the standard formula, we were more likely to tell women they had a worse prognosis than they actually did.”   Gulati is the lead author of a study published June 28 in the journal Circulation.

“Women are not small men,” Gulati added. “There is a gender difference in exercise capacity a woman can achieve. Different physiologic responses can occur. ”   Gulati was the first to define the normal exercise capacity or fitness level for women in a 2005 study.

The old formula -- 220 minus age -- used for almost four decades, is based on studies of men. The new formula for women, based on the new research, is 206 minus 88 percent of age.   At age 50, the original formula gives a peak rate of 170 beats per minute for men and women. The new women’s formula gives a maximum heart rate of 162 beats for women.  Many men and women use their peak heart rate multiplied by 65 to 85 percent to determine their upper heart rate when exercising.

“Before, many women couldn’t meet their target heart rate,” Gulati said. “Now, with the new formula, they are actually meeting their age-defined heart rate.”    The new formula is trickier to calculate, Gulati acknowledged, but is easily determined with a calculator. She currently is working on an iPhone application for a quick calculation.

The new formula is based on a study of 5,437 healthy women ages 35 and older who participated in the St. James Women Take Heart Project, which began in the Chicago area in 1992.    With the new formula, physicians will more accurately determine if women are having a normal or abnormal response to exercise.    “If it’s abnormal, that’s a marker for a higher risk of death,” Gulati said. “Maybe we need to talk about whether you exercise enough and what we need to do to get it into the normal range.

“We need to keep studying women to get data applicable to women,” Gulati said. “It’s important to not get complacent that we have data on men and assume women must be the same. They’re not.”

Gulati’s senior author on the study was the late Morton Arnsdorf, MD, professor emeritus and associate vice chairman of medicine and former section chief of cardiology at the University of Chicago.



Interesting post, however, I would be interested in learning exactly how they arrive at the formula? Everyone is different. My physician insists that I just work out as hard as I can and not be concerned with my heart rate while exercising. Great article. Sue

Our entire business is based around training women and the calculation may prove to be priceless when determining the correct training heart rate for our clients. We've been saying for years that men and women need to be trained differently. There are obvious reasons and then there are those that are more subtle. This being more subtle we'll pass in on to our staff so they can adjust their calculations. Thank you.

Establishing your cardiovascular fitness level, based on factors for example age, weight, activity, and heart rate, is sensible prior to you start an exercise program. A high quality monitor ought to include this feature. An additional benefit is that it provides you with a fitness baseline, for gauging improvement over time. It will also give you an idea of how fit you're, compared to the other magnificently muscled specimens of your age out there...

Physical exercise has always been a part of a person's life to ensure great health. But exercise ought to be done properly to make certain that it gives you the advantages that you expect. That is why it is necessary to use a heart rate monitor to keep track of your progress in achieving your physical exercise goals.

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This new heart rate measuring method will greatly help to maintain the cardiovascular disease into a low level.I am sure knowing the peak heart rate during the exercise will assist you to set goals for body maintaining and do as per your heart can hold.

This information is absolutely relevant and in my opinion should be made public as soon as possible. If I understood it correctly, it is now a more conservative HR formula, thus even with more reason. There are lots of fitness programs out there, and lots of women who should follow it.

I really like your blog the article is good! This new heart rate measuring method will greatly help to maintain the cardiovascular disease into a low level.

Very good information about measuring peak heart rate. I am just wondering weather it is required take more factors in to consideration apart form gender and age. May be things like height, weight, blood cholesterol level and etc.

Good post! I often find that blanket recommendations are used far too often, and this holds people back in their health and fitness goals. Everyone has a unique profile and they should adjust their goals according to their own body and progress, rather than submit to some generalized recommendation. Having said that, this is definitely a way of establishing a baseline for certain people; and it's nice to see these heart rate recommendations getting tailored to the diversity that's found in people. Differentiating between men and women is a good start in the right direction.

"Women are not small men" says it all. For decades we've been studying men and using that data for women as well when we know there are physical as well as physiological differences. This new method needs to be incorporated into fitness programs on the government as well as commercial level.

It is encouraging to see that more studies are being undertaken to assess peak heart rates, but can't help feel that a formula based on an average of only 5,437 women will provide accurate enough guidelines. Like I said it is encouraging but I still think more research in this area is needed.

That's a very interesting study, and extremely useful. If we can not get a more accurate heart rate for women who workout, then they can get more accurate feedback. Score! I would be interested in knowing the exact physiological differences that lead to this difference. Since it's not body size, what is it? Also, while this gives women a more accurate heart-rate for 'normal', what is then superior to normal? And by how much? Awesome info, thanks a ton!

All I can say is..."Well, it's about time." But-generally speaking, peak heart rate is linked to a person's ability to breathe under cardio stress, its much easier to monitor your breathing. The test itself, I feel is a bit overused.

A very interesting outcome. Will this ever be implemented into all the current text books?

On top of the difference between HR for men and women, women have WAY more slow twitch muscle fibres which mean they are more enduranced based anyway. This means this max reps or weights they can use are much higher than what they ACTUALLY use, which could explain the difference in calculating the HR.

It's great to see that women are starting to care about things like checking HR while working out more. We need to stop ignoring the fact that women are more likely to die from heart disease than men are, and start doing something about it!

Thank you. This updated formula to measure a woman's peak heart rate will be a great help for me to better understand my body especially during exercise. I am about 20 pounds overweight and I easily get tired whenever I am in the gym. This formula will allow me to calculate the duration of each exercise that I do and also the types of machines that I can use inside the gym.

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that i have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.Any way i'll be subscribing to your feed and i hope you post again soon.

women should be aware of advantages and disadvantages of doing workouts. Specially the intense workout. That's why it is always advisable to seek doctors advise first before joining workout programs to protect your health and body.

It is of course clear that women should not follow a man's workout. They are built different and require different stimulation for their muscles. The heart being a muscle, it is imperative they work it within prescribed guidelines. This information is vital to women and should be brought to the forefront!

The new formula is definitely trickier to calculate - which leads me to ask... have they come out with the IPhone app yet? I would love to try it - then I won't have to count on my fingers and toes LOL. ;)

It's interesting that the old formula is changing. It's been ingrained in all of us fitness professionals for years now!

When you are physically active your metabolism changes, and it is important that you realize that this is a lifelong endeavor. Take the dog for an extra walk each day. Park a little farther out in the parking lot and walk up to the door. tart taking the steps instead of the elevator. In general, start doing things that you don’t normally do in order to spark your metabolism, which in turn will rec up your cardiovascular fitness.

It is extremely important for women to know what there heart rate is during a workout. This way you know what range you should be in to get a good workout in, and not overdue it.

It's important to keep in mind that exercise is only one part of improving your peak heart rate, diet should also be considered

Great article. Not reaching your goals can be devastating, but remember, even if you don't complete the whole workout routine, at least do some of it. Something is better than nothing.

I am glad to see some changes to the old formula. I have a very low heart rate to begin with and have always felt that it was a struggle to reach my target heart rate on the exercise charts based on the old formula. It can get quite discouraging when you feel you are not reaching your goals. I will have to spread this information to the other ladies at my gym.

These new guidelines are welcome, but people should know that there is still a wide variation among individuals.

It's good to see a professional say that exercise is not simply divided by height and weight, but also by gender! Men and women's bodies are different in so many ways and this means that calculating heart rates when exercising should be different too.

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It can get quite discouraging when you feel you are not reaching your goals. I will have to spread this information to the other ladies at my gym

Thank you so much. I hope all women get this info so we can get the most out of our workouts.

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Good Post. Heart rates are exactly what needs to be monitored when we are exercising. When a person exercises their heart beats faster in order to send more oxygen and blood to the muscles in the body. If the activity is intense, then the heart must beats faster. Thus, this is one of the reasons why you should use a heart rate monitor while exercising.

Thank you for your post! Finally I read something Web that takes into consideration the diversity that exists between man and woman. I am convinced it is time that the heart rate during exercise should be different between men and women. In your post I found confirmation of what I thought ...

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