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How hard should I push it?

It’s vitally important when doing aerobic exercise (running, walking, cycling, etc.) to know how much is too much and especially so when you are older. The mind may be willing but what the body can cope with is a different story. It’s this factor that has been shown to be one of the primary factors which prevents older adults from participating in exercise. The aim of this blog is to teach you how to monitor the intensity of your aerobic training and explain to you the different ways of doing this.

The most accurate method of monitoring exercise intensity is through monitoring heart rate. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute This can be done by taking your own pulse at your wrist or at the side of your neck. It can be tricky to take your pulse properly if you are not trained to do so. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply it by 6 to get beats per minute.  Thankfully measuring heart rate is much more easily done these days thanks to technology. Heart rate monitors are readily available in pharmacies or sports shops and can be worn around the chest, as a wrist watch or even as an app on your phone.

To use heart rate properly as a monitor of aerobic intensity you need to know what your maximum heart rate is and from this you can calculate your ideal exercising heart rate. Maximum heart is calculated by subtracting your age from 220. For frail elderly people and beginners you should keep your exercising heart rate at 40-60% of your maximum. Healthy individuals should aim for 50-75% of their maximum. It’s also worth keeping a record of your resting heart rate over time. As you get fitter you will notice that your resting heart rate will decrease.

The second way of monitoring aerobic exercise intensity is by monitoring your level of comfort while exercising on a 0-10 scale. This is called a perceived exertion scale. This might sound very abstract but it has been shown in research to be very accurate.  I’ve printed a copy of the scale below. It’s definitely worth memorising if you are doing aerobic exercise and it really highlights the important message of ‘listen to your body’. You need to be in tune with how you are feeling while exercising, monitoring your own breathing, sweating and comfort levels and not monitoring yourself against the people you are exercising with.


Level Perceived exertion Physical signs % Max Heart Rate
0 Nothing at all No perceptible sign  
1 Very weak    
2 Weak Feeling of motion  
3 Moderate   50%
4 Somewhat strong Warm on a cold day

Slight sweat on a warm day

5 Strong    
6 Strong Sweating but can talk easily  
7 Very strong   80%
8 Very strong Heavy sweating. Difficulty talking.  
9 Very strong    

                  10                                            Maximal                  Near exhaustion                                   100%


The simplest was of monitoring you exercise intensity is by using the talk test. This simply means that if you can talk while you are exercising you are in a safe zone. Once you speech starts to break, slow or become uncomfortable you need to pull back. If you can sing while you exercise you are not working hard enough!

It is important to state that you must see you GP prior to undertaking aerobic exercise if you are an older adult or if you have not done any exercise in a long time. Your GP will screen you and make sure you are safe to begin aerobic exercise. If you have any concerns about aches, pains or old injuries please give us a call at Sportsplus Physiotherapy Clinic (067 42837) and we will screen you to ensure you do not do any further injury while exercising.

John Casey


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