Target Heart Rate Differs for Women and Men

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Target heart rates that have been widely accepted for almost 40 years were based on male-only studies.

Dr. Martha Gulati, a cardiologist at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, believes this needs to change to reflect appropriate exercise intensity for women. Women “are not small men,” Gulati says, so their exercise regimes should be tailored to gender-specific guidelines.

Gulati led a study of 5,437 Chicago-area women ages 30 and older in 2010. In the study, she recommended a formula to establish target heart rates that asked women to take 88 percent of their age and subtract it from 206 to find their maximum heart rate. For example, 88 percent of the age of a 40-year-old woman is 35.2. Subtracting that from 206 produces a maximum target heart rate of 170.8.

The old, male-only formula was 220 minus the person’s age. This produces a higher target heart rate then may be appropriate for most women. For example, a 40-year-old woman using the old formula would conclude that her target heart rate is 180, when it should be closer to 170, according to Gulati’s formula. Learn more at


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