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Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams

Understanding and monitoring your Heart Rate during exercise can give you amazing insights into your general health and performance

Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

We were still in the early stages of our ascent out of Glencoe when we made our first brief stop. My watch had beeped and vibrated to let me know that my heart rate was approaching Max Heart Rate. As soon as we stopped and took in the amazing scene around us my heart rate began to drop. Within a few minutes I heard another beep which told me it had dropped by 30 Beats Per Minute (BPM). That would give me ample time to work before we had to stop again. Soon we were off and ascending the steep rocky path above Glencoe.

Measuring Heart Rate

“Accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.”

Even with a healthy heart, there are still a few things it’s good to know about your heart as you start your journey into training. It is definitely worth the investment of getting a smart watch or some device with which you can accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.

Heart Rate measured on my watch

Of course it is also possible to physically measure your pulse if you do not have a device. If manually measuring your pulse rate, I would recommend measuring for a full minute while standing still. More information on how to measure your pulse can be found here.

In order to make sense of your heart rate, there are some rates that you should become familiar with. The basic two are Resting Heart Rate and Maximum Heart Rate.

Resting Heart Rate

“Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender.”

Resting Heart Rate (Sometimes known as Resting Pulse) is your heart rate when you are stationary and relaxed. It is best measured just after you get up in the morning as even just wandering around the house or the office may raise your heart rate somewhat.

A time and place to take your resting pulse. Bed in a tent in the Serengeti Sep, 2018

As it varies dependant on age, gender and general fitness level, it would be very difficult to say any rate is good or bad. Some indications are given here but, at this stage, it is enough just to know what it is when you are in good health.

Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender. In very general terms, fitter people tend to have lower resting Heart Rates. Taking your resting Heart Rate regularly can also give an indication of your health. Noticing an unexplained rise in Resting Heart Rate can be an early indication that you are becoming unwell. In my case, colds and stomach bugs have been preceded by a rise in Resting Pulse Rate.

Max Heart Rate (MHR)

“I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop.”

A Max Heart Rate moment at the top of Scafell Pike, Aug 2018

Max Heart Rate (MHR) or Max Pulse Rate (MPR) as it is sometimes known, is the maximum heart rate that you should work up to when exercising. The rule of thumb to calculate it is to subtract your age from 220. I am 53 years old so, in my case, my MHR is 167 (220-53) Beats Per Minute (BPM). When I am exercising I should try to avoid allowing my heart rate to exceed 167 BPM and, when it reaches this level, I should try to slow down a little in order to let it drop.

Even without measuring my heart rate, it is easy to tell when it is at or around MHR. I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop whatever physical activity has taken my heart rate to this level. I normally want to slow down as much as I need to slow down.

Whether exercising or not, when we are stressed or anxious, we enter into a cycle which tends to increase our heart rate. Sensing danger our brain releases adrenalin to prime our body for action. Our breathing becomes quick and shallow and our heart rate starts to rise… which triggers our brain to sense danger and so the cycle continues. If you are in good health however, it is possible to control your heart rate simply by reversing that cycle.

Slow down. Just like, when driving, the first action to slow down is take your foot off the accelerator, when exercising the first action you can take to reduce your heart rate is slow down. If you are running, walk or if you are walking stop and sit down if possible.

Stop and sit down if possible. My brother, Abel, ascending Stob Na Broige, Mar 2017

Your heart rate can be reduced further by slowing your breathing. For me, even just three slow deep breaths in and out can drop my heart rate by 10 BPM. Whether you’ve slowed to a walk, standing still or sat down, make a conscious effort to slow your breathing and, as your breathing slows and deepens, your heart rate will drop.

Another bonus of deep breathing during some form of a rest is that you have a better chance of getting more oxygen down to your legs and thus reducing muscle pain and avoiding cramps. This shall be discussed in more detail in the next post in this series.

To fine tune your heart rate, it’s all about your state of mind. As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditation can tell you, picturing positive images helps release serotonin in the brain which has the effect of reducing your heart rate… which tells your brain the world is good and so the cycle repeats.

In summary, whenever you become breathless, anxious and in need of a rest during exercise, this is a good indication that your heart rate may be approaching or at MHR. In order to reduce it;

  • Slow Down
  • Take slow deep breaths
  • Think positive

Taking frequent rests during exercise and applying the techniques above will help you to maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. Maintaining this margin will enable you to work safely and enjoy the activity more.

Click on the image below if you would like to read my previously published article – Relax And Count To Five – which explores how to control your heart rate during a 10K Race.

Relax And Count To Five, Stride Magazine, 2009

Performance Measured Through Heart Rate

“It’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity.”

Now you know how to control your heart rate, it’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity. This can be looked at in more detail referring to the image below from a recent Training Session.

Training Session involving a series of walks and short jogs

What the image is showing is my heart rate measured during a short training session which involved a series of walks and jogs. The data is taken from my Smart Watch which is a Suunto Trainer. However this is just one of many watches and Apps available to measure performance during sports.

Looking at the coloured Heart Rate zones between the graphs shows that there was no time during the session when my heart rate registered in the red zone which represents the highest heart rates. This means that I was training well within my capabilities. Of course, had I been covering a more intensive session such as sprint training, there would be no problem with seeing some of the session at the higher heart rates.

Heart Rate follows Pace

What can also be seen from the image is what I would call a healthy correlation between the charts measuring heart rate and pace. Every time my pace dropped from a jog to a walk, my heart rate dropped by about 20 to 30 BPM. This is a good indication of recovery from an activity.

Steady Heart Rate over Varying Terrain

Whether running or hiking over varying terrain, a good practice to remain comfortable and cover long distances is to vary your pace according to the terrain such that your heart rate remains relatively constant. Hence you can maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. This is illustrated below.

Measurements from my trek to the Sloy Dam from Inveruglas on Loch Lomond side. Mar, 2020

As can be seen, despite a climb and descent of 300m each way, my heart rate sat relatively steady and never came close to MHR. This an ideal margin for endurance activities.

Heart Rate And Altitude

“Our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen.”

A final subject to touch on while discussing Heart Rate is to look at the effects on Heart Rate, Raspatory Rate and Oxygen Saturation (or SpO2) at Altitude.

Typically above 3,000m above Mean Sea Level, our bodies will start to react to the reduced amount of Oxygen in the air. This means that our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen. This means that we need to reduce our physical work rate in order to maintain a healthy margin between our current heart rate and MHR. I found that the importance of maintaining a slow enough pace not to push my heart rate up was absolutely paramount at altitude in order not to feel sick or as if I was going to pass out.

Measuring the oxygen saturation in your blood using a device called a Pulse Oximeter, is a great way to see how your body is coping with altitude. At sea level a healthy person would expect to see levels of around 97% or above. Below 95% would be a case for some concern and anywhere near 90% and you may want to seek urgent medical attention.

Pulse Oximeter showing Oxygen Saturation and Heart Rate

At altitude however, with so much less oxygen in the air, the rate will inevitably drop. On Kilimanjaro our Guides would only let us continue up the mountain as long as our SpO2 level was 80% or above. At Gorakshep, on the return from Everest Base Camp, my SpO2 briefly dropped below 70% and I was suffering a lot of the early symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Fortunately we were on our descent which is the only cure for symptoms of AMS.

You can find out more about AMS and how to cope at High Altitude by clicking to my Blog Post here.

Next Post

Stretches and warm up exercises.

Now that we have covered the most important muscle of all, the heart, the next post will look at stretches and warm up exercises. These make sure the rest of our muscles are kept in the best condition to support us through our activities.

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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Christian Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Military Peace Politics Religion

About Our Ancestors

March to change the future because, no matter our actions, we cannot change the past.

Our ancestors are dead. Their lives are done and cannot be undone. My belief is that they have already atoned for the wrongs in their lives through the judgement of God. My hope is that they are at peace. My sadness is that, in their name, we are not.

Race, football team, colour of skin or sexual identity have never been factors in the respect I offer every human being. I was brought up to respect people and I have learnt that respect tends to be received as it is given. Such is my belief in the right of everyone to freely be who they are that I risked my own life to defend that freedom.

I refuse to take responsibility or apologize for what was done before my time. Instead, I believe history is something we can learn from. Sure we can topple statues, burn books and march on the streets for justice. But march to change the future because, no matter our actions, we cannot change the past. There is no point in trying to deny or erase it.

You may wish to reply to this and I have no issue with that. Just remember, if you do, that respect is given as it is received. Choose your words carefully. Every word you speak cost the lives and huge sacrifice of our ancestors. Yours and mine.

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Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Mental Health Recovery Music New Music Songs Writers

The Power Of Smile

This is a song I wrote about depression and it goes out to anyone who has suffered or is suffering. The song is especially dedicated to those amazing people of light who are able to reach into the darkness and help. The power that radiates from a smile is truly amazing as are those who smile and can reach you with it. I hope those people in my life know who they are and how blessed I feel to know them.

You always seem to smile when I’m around

You can hear the rest of my music on YouTube here

The songs I have made videos of
My recording studio showing yamaha keyboard and lenovo PC
Click on the image to view my music profile, listen to my playlist or order music for your project

Stream or Buy my Music on all major streaming Platforms including Amazon and Spotify

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Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Mental Health Recovery Military Running Swimming Travel Trekking Weight Loss

How The Tortoise Won ‘That Race’

It’s more about taking part than looking the part.

Capturing the pain of climbing in the Campsie’s, Mar 2014

If I asked you which is faster, a hare or a tortoise, you’d probably laugh and think it was a trick question right? For sure, you’d know the answer. But did you know that, on average, Tortoises outlive hares by a factor of about 20 times the lifespan? Perhaps there’s a lot to be said for taking your time and moving at your own pace.

We all know the story of The Hare And The Tortoise. The slowest of the animals takes on the fastest in a race. As the arrogant hare takes a nap close to the finish line, the lowly tortoise plods past and wins the race.

Slow and steady wins the day. Credit – Bedtime Stories Collection

Very often in my experience the proverbial hare is all you can see or hear from when looking into a mountain climb, a run or a swim. All too often, I feel very like the tortoise. The fact is however, you can be the tortoise and still reach the summit or cross the finish line. All it takes is a sense of adventure and some humility to accept your physical limits and work within them.

Perceived Marathon

“People who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.”

Lets look at the London Marathon as an example. I was ecstatic when I got the letter last year telling me that I had got through the ballot to run in this year’s London Marathon. I eagerly started watching videos on YouTube to see everybody’s stories of the previous runs. My screen was full of pictures of Athletes and advice on how to run a sub 3 hour marathon. The London Marathon, as depicted in those videos, was for people who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.

Even searching ‘London Marathon in 7 hours’ you still see nothing but athletes and even a video of someone completing a sub 3 hour marathon. Credit YouTube

Real Marathon

“You could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.”

If you search beyond the videos however, the fact is that those who complete the London Marathon before 7pm on race day qualify for a medal. With a start close to 10am that’s almost 9 hours to complete the course. My training runs often have as much, or more, walking than running in them. Certainly one of the paces I will describe and demonstrate in a future post covers a 7 hour marathon. You may feel like the proverbial tortoise watching the videos online but you could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.

Find Your Own Pace

“Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them … can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life.”

Walking at the back, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

It was on the second day of the Kilimanjaro Trek, as we climbed out of the jungle into the long grass towards the Shira Plateau, that I started to fall behind. I knew that a 30 second burst of pace would take me back to the main group. Previous experience of endurance events helped me to stay where I was, walking within myself, at a pace I knew I could manage. Had I pushed to catch the group and struggled to stay with them, my trek would have been over as soon as we reached altitude.

Experiencing the breath-taking views from Stella Point a few days later, on one of the most incredible mornings of my life, cost little more than swallowing a wee bit of pride and finishing 3 to 5 minutes behind the main group each day of the trek.

Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them, even if other people seem more physically capable than you, can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life. More to the point, high up in the mountains, it can actually save your life.

Slowly, Slowly

“I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in Nepali, Swahili and Arabic.”

I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in NepaliSwahili and Arabic. These are the languages of the countries in which I have climbed over 4,000m above mean sea level. I’ve seen people race ahead only to be lifted off the mountain hours later or the next morning suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). In the meantime those of us plodding along at the back get to reach our goals.

At altitude, you may have to stop for a rest and a breath after every single step. The longest mile I have ever covered in my life was the mile from the Mera La to High Camp, a climb of 500 vertical meters on the Mera Glacier and it took 5 hours. A general rule of thumb for ascending at high altitude is that it takes around 1 hour to cover 100 vertical meters.

Head Above Water

“I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke.”

Open Water Swimathon Course, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Almost immediately after the start of the Open Water Swimathon 2017, I found myself last swimmer by a good distance. By the time I reached the first Safety Boat they were asking if I was ok. Same as I completed the first of three 500m laps of the Open Water Swimming area of the Liverpool Water Sports Centre on the banks of the River Mersey.

The fact was that, where most of the swimmers were cutting slickly through the water swimming front crawl, I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke. Some people told me afterwards that the reason there was concern shown for me was that the stroke I was using is generally used when swimmers either tire or get into trouble.

I had decided to swim breaststroke because I knew I could cover a distance with it. My front crawl was clumsy and no way I’d have completed 1,500m with it. In the end up, slow as I was, I finished the course, got my medal and was proud as punch.

Slow And Steady

“We can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race.”

Walk every time you have to on a run and you’ll complete a Marathon. Slow down high on a mountain to save vital oxygen and you can reach the summit. Swim whatever stroke you’re comfortable with on an Open Water Swim and you’ll cross the finish. We may move slow and steady like a tortoise but we can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race. Whether the hare falls asleep and we win or not doesn’t really matter that much. It’s the taking part, as they say, that counts after all.

Open Water Swimathon Finish, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Next Post

Despite the magic we can achieve regardless of our weight, being overweight comes with it’s own physical challenges. Especially when we take our bodies into an environment or a challenge designed to test stamina and fitness. Starting with Heart Rate, my next few posts will deal with the physical challenges I have experienced in my journey and show some simple exercises to overcome them. It will be fun!

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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Please support this page by hitting the Like and re-blogging or sharing through Social Media using the buttons below. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can also leave a comment and subscribe to the blog to receive automatic updates whenever I post.