Exercise is an important part of disease prevention – and that includes cancer prevention, too. But not all exercise is created equal. It’s essential that some of your exercise make your heart beat faster than it does when you’re resting.
Getting your heart to beat faster trains your body to move oxygen and blood to your muscles more efficiently, helps you burn more calories and lowers your cholesterol. All of this can help you stay healthy and lower your cancer risk.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week can help lower your cancer risk. It’s the vigorous exercises that can help you get your heart rate up.
How to measure your heart rate
So, how do you determine your heart rate? One of the easiest ways to measure your heart rate is with a monitor, says Whittney Thoman, exercise physiologist at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. This is typically a watch or a strap that goes around your arm or chest that syncs with a watch or another device. Many wearable fitness trackers now include heart rate monitors.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor you can check your heart rate using your pulse. To find your pulse, use two fingers (your middle and your index fingers) to find your carotid artery, just below your esophagus or throat. Then, count the beats you feel for 10 seconds. Multiply that number by six. That’s roughly the number your heart beats per minute.
Understanding your heart rate
Now that you know how to measure your heart rate, you can determine:
- Active heart rate: how fast your heart beats when you’re active or exercising
- Resting heart rate: how fast your heart beats when you’re resting or relaxing
- Maximum heart rate: the highest rate your heart can obtain during activity. To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, subtract 40 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175. This is the maximum number of beats your heart is capable of per minute, but you should not try to exercise to this level.
Check your pulse or your heart rate monitor while you’re resting and then again while you’re exercising to compare your resting heart rate to your active heart rate.
If you’re working at 50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate, then that exercise is considered moderate. If you’re working at 70 to 85% of your heart rate then its vigorous exercise. If your heart is working harder than that (above 85%) it could be dangerous, so be sure to back off or consult your doctor.
If you’re worried about an increased heart rate causing other health problems or have had heart problems in the past, talk to your doctor before you begin exercising at a higher intensity.
Ways to get your heart rate up
Now that you know how to determine your heart rate, the next step is to find exercises that will help boost it to improve your health. Here are a few ways to get your heart rate up.
- Set an incline. If you’re on the treadmill increase the incline. Or if you’re walking outside look for hills. This will challenge your muscles and help increase your heart rate.
- Take the stairs. Just like adding an incline, stairs bring a new challenge to your workout.
- Alter your pace. Whether you’re walking, riding a bike, swimming or practicing yoga, you don’t have to increase your pace for the entire workout. Add in short bursts of increased effort at a faster pace. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the duration of these bursts.
- Take shorter breaks. If you’re doing an interval workout or lifting weights, take shorter breaks in between the different exercises.