How Fitbit’s Heart Rate Feature Can Help You

It was a six-figure job offer in a warm climate. They also were promising flexible scheduling. Sounds pretty appealing, right? I never responded. That email arrived several years ago. I’ve received more offers, since then, for similar jobs with similar pay, but not all of them in warmer states. I haven’t responded to any of them either. Right now you’re thinking I’m either crazy or it’s a scam. Well, I’m not crazy and as far as I can tell the offers are legit. It’s actually a case of mistaken identity. Each of the emails was addressed to Dr. David Paul and were for jobs as an ER physician. Turns out, there’s a doctor with my name who works in the Emergency Room at a hospital close to where we live. Despite those emails, I’m not a doctor. I actually do a morning radio show. But, today I want to talk about a really cool feature in your Fitbit that can help you improve your health. Fitness transformation requires some intensity. Sadly, most fitness journeys end early because we try and pack way too much intensity into our workouts at the very beginning. Our heart isn’t ready for that kind of intensity and we feel it pretty quickly. Imagine how you would feel if you decided to run a 5k without any training. You wouldn’t get very far before your body is screaming for you to stop. The better way is to first create a fitness habit and then gradually increase your fitness intensity. That’s how you get fitness momentum which eventually leads to fitness transformation. Your heart is a great guide to building fitness momentum and if you have a Fitbit that tracks your heart rate it can give you some valuable information. WARNING Even though I get regular offers to practice emergency medicine, I’m not a doctor and it would be wrong for me to offer medical advice and foolish for you to take it even if I offered it. I’m a big fan of getting an annual check-up with a doctor you trust. I do it every year. You should too. Your doctor can tell you what fitness activities are good for you and also what you should avoid. What I’m about tell you are general guidelines and recommendations regarding your heart rate and how you can use a Fitbit to improve your fitness journey and ultimately your health. HERE WE GO Simply put, your heart rate is how many times your heart beats per minute. As I write this my heart rate is 68. That means my heart, right now, is beating 68 times a minute. Knowing your heart rate can help you in three different ways:
  1. IS THERE A PROBLEM? Your heart rate is something your doctor checks anytime you visit. If it’s too high or too low that could be the sign of a problem.
  2. MEASURE YOUR FITNESS PROGRESS. Your heart is a muscle. As your fitness level grows your heart gets stronger and doesn’t have to work as hard. Your heart rate is a way to measure how much progress you’re making.
  3. WEIGHT LOSS GUIDE. If part of your fitness goal is to lose weight, the intensity of your activity matters. Your heart rate will indicate which heart rate zone you are in. More on this below.
Are you still with me? I hope so, because once you know this stuff and how your Fitbit uses this information it could make a big difference in your fitness and health journey. There’s a little bit of math involved, but you only have to do it once a year. MAXIMUM HEART RATE The first thing you need to know is your Maximum Heart Rate. Everything that follows is based of this. It’s a simple math equation. Subtract your age from 220. The answer is your Maximum Heart Rate. Even better, your Fitbit actually does this math for you. Because the heart is a muscle it loses some capacity every year as we age. A 20 year old has an expected Maximum Heart Rate of 200 while an 80 year old’s has dropped to 140. Knowing your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) is the key number because the three heart rate zones are a percentage of your MHR. For this example we will use the MHR for a 50 year old…which is 170. Here are the three heart rate zones that show up in your Fitbit app. FAT BURN ZONE In this zone, your heart is beating 50-69% of your Maximum Heart Rate. This is considered low to medium intensity. When you heart is in this zone you are burning fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, this sounds really good. And, it is. But, you’re not burning as many calories as the next zone up. For our 50-year old example the heart rate in the Fat Burn Zone would fall between 85 and 118. CARDIO ZONE In this zone your heart is beating 70-84% of your Maximum Heart Rate. This is considered medium to high intensity and is the target for most people who exercise. You’re now burning more calories than the Fat Burn Zone. You’re also going to feel this one more than the Fat Burn Zone. For our 50 year old example the heart rate would fall between 119 and 143 in the Cardio Zone PEAK ZONE In this zone your heart is beating at least 85% of your Maximum Heart Rate. This zone is for short bursts of very high intensity exercise. If you’ve ever heard of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, the goal is to briefly push your heart rate into this zone during timed intervals. This is NOT where you want to start your fitness journey. For our 50 year old example the heart rate would go above 144 in the Peak Zone HOW YOUR FITBIT CAN HELP YOU If you have a Fitbit that also tracks your heart rate, it’ll do all this math for you. As long as you have correctly entered your age in the Fitbit app, it’ll take your heart rate and tell you in real time which zone you’re in. That’s what I looked at a few moments ago when my heart rate was 68. The heart rate technology Fitbit uses in pretty amazing. It involves those flashing green LED lights on the back of your device. 178Because your blood is red it absorbs green light. Each heart beat produces a mini-surge of blood that absorbs more green light. In between each beat less green light absorbed. Those little green lights are flashing hundreds of times every second and calculating how much is absorbed and amount of time between each surge. The result is your heart rate. How accurate is this technology? The gold standard is a medical heart rate monitor that’s strapped to your chest. But, wearable step tracker devices, like a Fitbit, are pretty close and recommended by the American Heart Association. You can read more about the heart rate tracking feature on Fitbit devices HERE

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the brand new Fitbit Inspire 2! The Inspire 2 has double the battery life, and also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

(By the way…if you use the link to make a purchase, this blog receives a small commission that doesn’t impact your price.) RESTING HEART RATE Your Fitbit also calculates your average resting heart rate. This is a great way to measure your fitness progress. Typically our resting heart rate falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. In other words, while we are not engaged in a physical activity how hard does our heart have to work? One of the health goals for exercise is to strengthen the heart so it can work more efficiently. But, here’s the thing. At any given moment there are a bunch of factors impacting your resting heart rate. Are you stressed? That makes you heart work faster. Did you just drink coffee? Same thing. How about medicine? That has an impact too. So, how can you tell what your resting heart rate is if it’s constantly changing. For example, a few minutes ago my resting heart rate was 68. Now it’s 74. What’s up with that? Your Fitbit calculates all of this and gives you an AVERAGE resting heart rate at the end of each day. This can help you see the big picture and see over time the impact fitness is having on your resting heart rate. BOOST YOUR INTENSITY Lastly, your Fitbit can help you see how much time you spend in each heart rate zone during a full day. The real sweet spot is the Cardio Zone. Most of us have to push ourselves a bit for our heart rate to get this high. And, the stronger your heart gets the more you have to push yourself. For example, because I’ve been pursuing fitness for a while so it takes more effort now while I’m walking to get my heart rate in the Cardio Zone. I need to walk faster or find some hills to climb. That may sound discouraging…that the reward for fitness is having to work even harder to elevate your heart rate…but, really it’s a sign of my heart getting stronger. Every step you take is beneficial. But, not every step has EQUAL benefits. There is value to gradually increasing your effort. The heart rate tracker on your Fitbit is a great way to measure where you are and see real progress from your efforts. One more time…even though I get emails addressed to Dr. David Paul, I’m NOT a doctor and the smart thing to do is see a real doctor to make sure your heart can handle increased intensity if you’ve been largely inactive for a long time. One of these days, for fun, I may just respond to one of these job offers. In the meantime I wonder how many emails the real Dr. David Paul is getting with radio job offers. WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY If you’re just getting started on a new fitness journey, I want to recommend The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. Most fitness goals end in failure because they start way too big. Setting the right goal to get started is critical! This free guide will help you do that. It also includes a contract you sign to keep your daily commitment. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it can be just the motivation you need on a day where keeping your fitness commitment feels too hard. Every day you reach your goal is a WIN. This guide also includes a 30 Day Tracker to help you celebrate each of those wins. It’ll feel really good as you track these. But, more importantly it’ll help you build fitness momentum that will last. You can get started today with The 30 Day Fitness Challenge.
It’s probably no surprise to learn that most people who set a fitness goal don’t finish. The first 30 days are the most critical! Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone…to the right and above on your computer) you’ll receive an email with a link to each new blog post.


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