A Window Into Your Heart

It is three weeks till Tennis Camp. But before any senior starts to “try to get back in shape,” they should have themselves checked out professionally, by a physician or at least by a physical trainer. One great measure of conditioning is your pulse, the measure of your heart rate during exercise and resting.

When you first awake in the morning and are not yet out of bed, try finding your pulse on the inside of your wrist or in your neck. Count the beats for 60 seconds and see what you find.

Nowadays, it has crept up slightly; but when I was running 4-5 miles a day, my resting pulse was a phenomenal 45-47 beats a minute. And I could tell how fatigued I was on any given day by that number going up or staying nice and low. The heart is a muscle and if it is working overtime, your body is in an oxygen deficit you should be aware of.

My first experience with taking my pulse was back in 1972 when my older brother introduced me to running. We just went down the street and back for a total of about one mile and stopped. He said, “Now count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply that by four.” When he asked me what my pulse was, I told him it multiplied out to 184.

He said, “Sit down!” I asked, “Was that a good number?” He said, “SIT DOWN!” And then he introduced me to the concept of maximum heart rate and target heart rate.

According to the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.com), a person’s maximum heart rate is 220 minus their age. And for vigorous exercise, you should aim for a target heart rate of no more than 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. So if someone was 60 years old, their pulse should be in the 112 – 136 range at the peak of their physical activity. Over that is dangerous – even for a healthy person.

After my father’s open heart surgery, my brother and I tried to convince him to start a regular exercise program. He resisted; and even went so far to find a book in the library “written by a doctor,” who proffered that “the human heart only had a fixed number of beats in it.” And if you “used them up” on exercise, you would die sooner.

My brother and I countered that if you got your heart into good shape, your everyday resting and walk-around pulse could be at least ten beats a minute LESS than it would have been. Given all the beats you would save the 23 hours a day, when you were NOT exercising, it would be like letting your heart not beat for all of July and August every year!

Our father at least took up golf and walked the course just about every day; and lived another 12 years, passing at the age of 81.