Leo Sher, M.D.
The maximum heart rate is the highest heart rate a person can safely achieve through exercise stress. One way of monitoring physical activity intensity is to determine whether a person’s pulse/heart rate is within the target zone during physical activity. The maximum heart rate depends on age.
The most accurate way of measuring the maximum heart rate is via a cardiac stress test. In such a test, the individual exercises while being monitored by an EKG. During the test, the intensity of exercise is periodically increased, continuing until certain changes in heart function are detected in the EKG, at which point the individual is directed to stop.
Different formulas have been used to estimate individual maximum heart rates, based on age, but maximum heart rates vary significantly between individuals. The most common formula used is: the maximum heart rate = 220 – age. More sophisticated formulas have also been used. For example, it has been proposed to use the following formulas to establish reference values for the maximum heart rate: for men: the maximum heart rate = 203.7/[1 + exp[0.033 x (age – 104.3)]], and for women: the maximum heart rate = 190.2/(1 + exp (0.0453 * (Age – 107.5))) (Farazdaghi and Wohlfart (2001); Wohlfart and Farazdaghi (2003)).
Tanaka et al. (2001) performed a meta-analysis of group mean maximum heart rate values from 351 studies involving 492 groups and 18,712 subjects and concluded that the commonly used equations underestimate the maximum heart rate in older adults. The authors proposed that the following formula should be used: the maximum heart rate = 208 – 0.7 x age .
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Farazdaghi GR, Wohlfart B. Reference values for the physical work capacity on a bicycle ergometer for women between 20 and 80 years of age. Clin Physiol. 2001 Nov;21(6):682-7.
Tanaka H, Monahan KD, Seals DR. Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001 Jan;37(1):153-6.
Wohlfart B, Farazdaghi GR. Reference values for the physical work capacity on a bicycle ergometer for men — a comparison with a previous study on women. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2003 May;23(3):166-70.