Get Your Heart in the Game

For the great majority of my life—49 years and counting—exercise has been a priority. I place exercise at the same level as eating and sleeping. In other words, it's necessary in order to live.

Most of us realize there are two types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. In simple terms, aerobic exercise elevates the heart rate on a continual basis and keeps it elevated over an extended period. Examples include running, bicycling, swimming and so forth. Most experts agree that your heart rate should be continually elevated for at least 10 minutes. Anaerobic activity, on the other hand, elevates the heart rate, but not necessarily over extended periods. Examples include weight training, tennis, racquetball, sprinting and so forth.

Now, note the difference between the two activities: aerobic activity is clearly designed to maintain an elevated heart rate and anaerobic activity is clearly not designed to maintain the heart rate elevation. These are crucial differences. Of course, it gets more complicated than that the more you get into it. But for the purposes of this article, I'll be focusing on aerobic activity and how to arrive at an honest assessment of your overall aerobic health.

Bottom line: I recommend conducting at least five aerobic sessions per week, lasting 20–45 minutes each, for the rest of your life. It must be that important to you.

Heart Rate

As we all know (if we're alive), we have a heart rate. The heart rate is usually counted in the number of heart beats per minute (BPM). We need to understand two key components of our heart rate: resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.

Our resting heart rate can be obtained most accurately when you first wake and before you get out of bed. This can be done with a heart rate monitor or by simple utilizing a watch (with a second hand) and pressing a finger against one of the well-recognized places on your body where you can feel the heart pumping: on the underside of your wrist or on the side of your neck toward the front.

Using the watch method, simply find the "pulse" and begin counting the beats by ones (starting at zero) while you observe the second hand. Count the pulse for 10 seconds and multiply the result by six. Keep this number (your resting heart rate) in mind and check it often. At present, my resting heart rate is 48. This number can actually decrease over time as your aerobic fitness level improves.

One of the easiest ways to calculate your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220. My maximum heart rate is calculated as follows: 220 – 49 = 171. There are certainly other methods to calculate, but this will give you a good idea.

Now, for the extremely important stuff. Aerobic activity is generally optimized in the range of 65–85% of your maximum heart rate. For me, the formula results are as follows: 171 x .65 = 111 and 171 x .85 = 145. Therefore, for me to actually do useful, constructive and optimized aerobic activity, I need my heart rate to be consistently between 111 and 145 BPM for at least 20 minutes.

Trust me: Most folks don't really pay attention to their BPM. They mistakenly believe that a nice leisurely stroll on a treadmill will accomplish the mission. Or possibly, slowly peddling on a stationary bike will ensure a daily necessary dose of aerobic activity. I'm not saying these are bad. As a matter of fact, these are great starts. If you haven't been performing physical activity on a regular basis, please start somewhere, even with a nice leisurely stroll around the block a few times a week. Activity is a part of living.

Put the Time In

I don't know about you, but I don't want to waste my time when I exercise. I want (and expect) positive results. I know you do as well. So ask yourself the question: "Am I doing aerobic activity or just kidding myself?" Answer the question honestly with the previous information in mind. You'll likely find that you need to push yourself harder and longer. You'll need to care more about it. Bottom line: If you need to make adjustments in your perceptions and beliefs about aerobic activity, do so.

You'll be glad you did.

Mark Sherwood retired after 24 years with Tulsa (Okla.) Police Department at the rank of sergeant. He is the CEO of 4E Fitness (, a wellness company that carries a full line of nutritional supplements and activity DVDs specifically designed to teach the non-active how to be active. He is also a Cooper Institute Certified Personal Trainer who speaks to and instructs law enforcement, military, first responders and corporations on subjects such as conquering stress, eliminating wellness debt, and physical wellness. Sherwood is also a certified Health Educator for Designs for Health (www.designs and well as the co-founder of the Protector's Oath ( His passion for wellness is further evidenced by his long running television show, 4E TV, which can be seen on YouTube and

Follow these simple steps to see how your aerobic exercise needs jibe with your current workout. You might be surprised.
Photos courtesy photospin

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