What should your pulse rate be?

Image attribution: "MF-180" by Pascal. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Image attribution: “MF-180” by Pascal. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The topic of the pulse rate is one that our patients and healthy athletes frequently like to discuss with us.

With the increased availability and ease of use of wearable monitors, the optimal exercise heart rate has become an almost universal subject of conversation, not only in the athletic community but also among those who are just embarking on an exercise program.

In general, athletes are interested in the pulse rate in 2 situations:  the resting pulse rate, best measured upon waking in the morning, and the pulse rate during sustained aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling.  Today we will address the pulse rate during exercise and leave the resting pulse rate for a separate article.

So what is the physiologic meaning of the exercise pulse rate?  Is there a pulse rate one should aim for?  What if the rate falls outside the target zone?  Can the pulse rate ever be a clue to a cardiovascular problem?  Let’s take these questions one by one.Read more

Can you ever exercise too much?

Can you exercise too much

Image attribution: Julian Mason/Flickr.

Professional athletic trainer and sports journalist Ian MacMahan asked us that question as part of an article he published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine.

McMahan reported on recent research that raises concerns about ultra-endurance sports carried to an extreme level for many years.  Such an exercise regimen increases one’s chance of having arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation, and may also cause scarring in the ventricle of the heart.

Some cardiologists have sounded alarm bells, comparing such exercise regimens to a “toxin.”  In my opinion, it is not yet clear if long-term, high-intensity exercise alone is the cause of the problem, or if those affected have other factors that come into play.  Nevertheless, the research should not be dismissed.   Here are some highlights:Read more

Cardiac arrest during marathons: 10 facts to consider

Last Sunday, an experienced marathon runner in his mid-50’s collapsed a few yards from the finish line during the Road2Hope half-marathon in Hamilton, Ontario.  Regrettably, the paramedics were unable to resuscitate him.  This unfortunate story illustrates the rare but tragic phenomenon of exercise-induced sudden cardiac arrest.Read more