What's the maximum safe pulse rate for rigorous work or exercise?

What’s the maximum safe pulse rate for rigorous work or exercise?

E-Alert readers know HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., as the “Nutrition Physician.” But you may not be aware that Dr. Spreen has an extensive background in sports. He’s worked with many athletes as a coach (competitive diving), and a nutritionist (diving, gymnastics, boxing, swimming, and others). The divers he’s worked with have included National Champions, one 3-time Open National Champion, and one Olympian who finished 4th in the 1996 Games by just over one point. (Dr. Spreen’s comment on that one: “Rats!”)

So when I received a question about pulse rate during exercise, I handed it over to our unofficial Sports Physician.

An HSI member named Jerry writes: “I have a question about a person’s pulse rate. I know what the resting pulse rate should be. It should be 60 to 75 but my question is, when one is working or exercising what would be too high and what is normal under those conditions?”

Dr. Spreen: “The pulse issue not only changes depending on the ‘expert du jour’ that you ask, but also it depends HUGELY on the individual and his or her fitness level, plus personal risk factors such as smoking history, cardiac status, and others, besides of course the key factor of the person’s age. All these factors make a specific number almost silly to calculate. Your doctor, usually after some testing, would have to have the final say.

“As a VERY general rule, for a generally healthy subject a ballpark figure for the absolute max limit might be the old ‘200-minus-your-age’ rule, with 80% of that being the general safe target area (young athletes in stamina sports will often exceed that when going through the ‘getting in shape’ phase).

“For example, if you’re 40, your absolute maximum pulse would be around 160, with a target safe pulse during exercise occurring somewhere around 80% of that, or around 130 or so.

“This number always generates controversy, so please keep that in mind before telling me I’m in the Dark Ages. I’ll defer to exercise physiologists for the latest information, though even they must defer to your personal health care practitioner.”