Finding Your Child's Target Heart Rate Zone

Filed under: Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens

I often have parents come to me for help with their teenager who is overweight. They assure me their child exercises on a regular basis and eats relatively well. My first line of questioning typically reveals the need for stress management, better sleep habits and improved nutrition.

Assuming the parents agree to address these issues, my fact-finding switches focus to the type and intensity of their exercise routine. In most cases, the child is not exercising long enough and at a low intensity. Kids need at least 60 minutes a day of vigorous activity to maintain a healthy body weight. For the younger kids, I suggest using the talk test. This test assumes kids are training at the right intensity if their heart rate is high enough to make it difficult to hold a regular conversation. For teenagers, I recommend training in their target heart rate zone.

Tips for finding your target heart rate zone, after the jump...


Target Heart Rate (HR) Training Zone

In order to achieve the health and fitness benefits of exercise, kids should be training at a heart rate training intensity of 70-90 percent of their predicted maximum for up to an hour a day. In order to define your target zone, you need to first calculate your predicted maximum heart rate. There are several formulas that calculate your maximum heart rate.

I recommend using the simplest formula of 220 – AGE for men and 226 – AGE for women. As soon as the predicted maximum heart rate is established, simply calculate the percentage for the recommended training zone by multiplying it by 70 percent and then 90 percent, and dividing these values by 4. This will give you a heart rate range for 15 seconds.

Here's an example using my 15-year-old daughter Marissa.

Predicted Maximum HR = 226 – (15)
= 211
70 percent Zone: 211 x 70% / 4 = 36.93 beats per 15 seconds
90 percent Zone: 211 x 70% / 4 = 47.48 beats per 15 seconds

Therefore, my daughter Marissa should be accumulating 60 minutes of daily exercise intense enough to elicit a heart rate response of 36 – 47 beats every 15 seconds.

How to Take Your Heart Rate

To find your pulse in your wrist, hold your left hand in front of you with your thumb up and palm towards you. Place the tips of your first two fingers of your right hand on the groove of your left wrist in line with the bottom of your left thumb. Gently feel for your pulse. When you have found a steady beat, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds. Compare this number to the desired heart rate training zone. If the number is too low, it's time to increase the intensity of your exercise. Have your kids try this every 10-15 minutes during an intense activity; the heart can't lie!

Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids, a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.