Normal Heart Rate for Women

Research in 2010 from Northwestern Medicine revised the normal peak heart rate for women during exercise. The study overturned the formula devised using male subjects and used for more than four decades to calculate maximum heart rate figures for women. The 2010 study's lead author, Doctor Martha Gulati, explained that women in fact have a lower peak heart rate than men, and that using the old formula (220 minus age) resulted in women being told they had a worse prognosis than was actually the case. So what are the numbers women should know about their heart and exercise?

Resting heart rate

The American Heart Association (AHA) says that the average resting heart rate in an adult is between 60 and 80 beats per minute (bpm) although an athlete's heart rate may be lower, and your resting heart rate generally increases with age.

Measure your resting heart rate if possible in the morning a few minutes after waking up and before getting out of bed. If you can't take your pulse first thing in the morning, lie down for a few minutes first, and ensure you relax completely, perhaps by meditating or listening to relaxing music. Also, be aware that medications, stress, anxiety, caffeine, alcohol, smoking and minor ailments can all have an effect on your heart rate, so take measurements over several days and average them to get an accurate idea of your resting heart rate.

Maximum heart rate

This is the figure revised by the study from Northwestern Medicine, which says the correct calculation for women is 206 minus 88 percent of age. So whereas using the old formula women of 20, 40 and 60 would have been told they had maximum heart rates of 200, 180 and 160, respectively, using the new calculations those figures would be 188, 171 and 153.

Target exercise zones

Obviously, an updated maximum heart rate means target exercise zones calculated as a percentage of maximum heart rate will also change. Although the changes may not be huge, they may nevertheless be important if you need to keep an eye on your heart, particularly if you are exercising at the top end of the recommended safe range for exercise.

Using the Northwestern Medicine formula to calculate target heart rates for light exercise, weight loss, aerobic and conditioning exercise, with target ranges as:

  • Light exercise : 50 to 60 percent of maximum heart rate
  • Weight loss: 60 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate
  • Aerobic exercise: 70 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate
  • Conditioning: 80 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate

For a woman of 20 adjust target ranges:

  • Light exercise : from 100-120 to 94-113 bpm
  • Weight loss: from 120-140 to 113-131 bpm
  • Aerobic exercise: from 140-160 to 131-150 bpm
  • Conditioning: from 160-170 to 150-160 bpm

For a woman of 40 adjust target ranges:

  • Light exercise : from 90-108 to 86-103 bpm
  • Weight loss: from 108-126 to 103-120 bpm
  • Aerobic exercise: from 126-144 to 120-137 bpm
  • Conditioning: from 144-153 to 137-145 bpm

For a woman of 60 adjust target ranges:

  • Light exercise : from 80-96 to 77-92 bpm
  • Weight loss: from 96-112 to 92-107 bpm
  • Aerobic exercise: from 112-128 to 107-122 bpm
  • Conditioning: from 128-136 to 122-130 bpm
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