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DrSugar Answers: Running and High Heart Rate

DrSugar is in the house! This week she's answering a runner's question about her heart rate.

Dear DrSugar,
I am worried that my heart rate is too high when I am running. I am fairly fit and work out three to five times a week. My resting heart rate is around 70, but when I start running it shoots up to 168 and I am not even moving fast. I am running an 11 plus minute mile to warm up. It stays up pretty high during my entire run and sometimes gets over 170 when I push my pace a bit. I am 35 so I know my max heart rate is only 185, so my heart rate seems kind of high to me since I am not even sprinting or anything. Is this normal? Is there something wrong with my heart? Should I make an appointment with my doctor?
Hearty Gal

Thank you for having the insight to ask this very important question. I’m certain you are not the only FitSugar reader who has faced this issue. To see my answer, just read more.

Before I begin, I encourage you and all FitSugar readers to always consult your primary care physician if you are concerned about your health. Whether you have actual signs and symptoms of a problem, or just a gut feeling, a complete history and physical examination by a physician is of utmost importance to rule out a medical condition.

Getting back to the question at hand, there are three factors that should be discussed when it comes to heart rate and exercise. These factors are: basal (or resting) heart rate, maximum predicted heart rate, and target heart rate. There are many different equations that can be used to calculate one’s maximum predicted heart rate. An equation that is generally used for healthy young adults is the formula 220 minus age. Just as you had stated in your question, at age 35, your maximum predicted heart rate is 220 minus 35, which equals 185 beats per minute.

It is not recommended to exercise above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. You gain the most benefits and lessen cardiovascular risks when you exercise in your target heart rate zone. According to the American Heart Association, your target heart rate zone is when your exercise heart rate is 50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. It is possible for your heart rate to get above 90 percent of the maximum heart rate during vigorous exercise, but usually this is during interval training with rest/recovery periods that allow your heart rate to return to the acceptable 50-85 percent level. Monitoring heart rate during exercise is a great way to determine your exercise intensity and can be done manually or by investing in a heart rate monitor.

It is also very important to measure your basal (or resting) heart rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, the normal resting heart rate for a healthy adult is 60-100 beats per minute. For a well-trained athlete, a normal resting heart rate may be as low as 40-60 beats per minute. Tachycardia (the medical term for a fast heart rate) is generally defined as a resting heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute. Some people with tachycardia have no symptoms at all, but some may experience dizziness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, palpitations (a physical feeling of skipping heart beats), chest pains, or fainting.

A number of conditions can cause a rapid heart rate and tachycardia symptoms, including hyperthyroidism, congenital disease of the heart, high blood pressure, heavy alcohol or caffeine use, or imbalance of electrolytes in the blood. There is a very big possibility that you are just fine and your heart and health are completely normal, but because you are concerned, I would recommend seeking consultation with a physician to rule out a medical condition. A simple blood test can determine if you have hyperthyroidism and your physician may choose other tests to perform based on your history and physical exam.

Take care of yourself, know your limitations, and see a medical professional for an evaluation. Even if everything turns out to be normal, the peace of mind will help you keep your stride!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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