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Checking your heart rate too often can slow down your workout.
When it comes to burning the calories it takes to lose fat, you have two things to keep in mind: time and intensity. The longer you work out, the more calories you'll burn. At the same time, you'll need to pay attention to how hard you're working out, striking a balance between going hard and going at an intensity that will allow you to sustain your workout for an extended amount of time. So long as you're not a marathon runner or someone who works out for hours at a time, you shouldn't have to worry about losing muscle; in fact, by working out regularly, you're more likely to gain it.
Maximum Heart Rate
The first step to figuring out whether you're working out at an appropriate intensity is to calculate your maximum heart rate, or MHR. As its name suggests, your MHR is the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute. Since your heart tends to beat slower as you get older, your MHR changes as you age. Your doctor can help you calculate a more accurate MHR, but the simplest way to do it is to subtract your age from 220, as recommended by the American Heart Association. The resulting number is your estimated MHR.
Target Heart Rate
Once you've made that simple calculation, multiply the number by 0.5 and 0.8. For example, if you're a 40-year-old person, your MHR will be 180. Multiply that by 0.5 and 0.8 and you get 90 and 144, respectively. Your "target zone" for exercise should be between 50 and 80 percent of your MHR, recommends the American Council on Exercise. If you're new to exercise, stay closer to the low end of that zone so you can gain confidence and avoid injury. As you get stronger and more fit, it's OK to aim for the higher end of that spectrum, though you'll probably find that you can't sustain that intensity for nearly as long as a lower-intensity workout. That begs the question: So what is the "fat-burning zone" you hear so much about?
The fat-burning zone you may have heard about is a percentage of your MHR. More specifically, it's purported to be 55 to 65 percent of your MHR. At that rate, the body is thought to draw more energy from fat stores as opposed to glycogen, or carbohydrate, stores. In that zone, then, you'll burn a higher percentage of calories from fat, but by staying at that relatively slow pace, you're going to burn fewer calories overall. Remember, burning calories is a matter of time and intensity. Hence, if you can maintain a more intense pace for 20 minutes instead of going at a slow pace for that 20 minutes, you're going to burn more calories and meet your weight-loss goals faster.
Testing Your Pulse
To test your heart rate, take your pulse at your carotid artery, where your neck meets your jaw. Count the number of beats you feel in 30 seconds, and then multiply that by two. You can also use a heart-rate monitor or those sensors on equipment at the gym -- just be sure to enter your age and weight into the machine so you get an accurate reading. There's also a less time-consuming way to test your exercise intensity -- by how you feel. When you're exercising at light intensity, you'll be able to carry on a conversation and your breathing won't change much. With moderate-intensity exercise, you'll be able to talk but not sing and you'll break a light sweat. With vigorous-intensity exercise, you won't be able to say more than a few words and you'll be sweating profusely, suggests MayoClinic.com.