Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Just Because Dr. Oz Says It; Doesn't Mean It's Right For You

Dr. Oz mentions new maximum heart rate (MHR) formulas for men and women.

Here's the problem.

Dr. Oz has a good reputation and millions of followers, mostly women, who read his articles and watch his TV show.  My mom is one of them.  In a recent phone call, she told me that she was clipping an article in the newspaper. (Really - who does that anymore?  Just joking, Mom.)  The article was something that Dr. Oz said, about maximum heart rate and a new formula or something like that.  Interested, I asked her for more details.

Incorrect information, as in this article, will not kill you, but it will not improve your fitness, if your goal is to get fit, get healthy, or lose weight.  Let's look at the article.

Incorrect statement #1:  Dr. Oz says when you're working out to keep your heart rate at 50-75% of maximum heart rate.

Obvious Contradiction:  The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) says "moderate to vigorous" exercise is necessary most days to maintain health.

The problem is that 50-75% of maximum heart rate is NOT considered moderate to vigorous enough to evoke a significant change in health benefits.  One could argue that 75% is moderate, and I'll accept that.  However, Dr. Oz stated a very broad range of 50-75%, and many people are going to interpret that literally, and take the easy road and do the minimal amount and intensity of exercise to meet this standard.  That's not going to work.

Obvious Contradiction:  We're facing an obesity epidemic, stemmed mostly from living a sedentary lifestyle and eating poor foods.

As long as that epidemic continues, we are a society that is spiraling out of control in the wrong direction, towards ill health and lack of fitness.  Telling people to exercise at 50-75% of maximum heart rate may get them moving (and that is a good thing), but it may continue the downward spiral, because the intensity is not enough to change fitness significantly.  In other words, it's just not enough to balance the food intake (calories in) and the largely sedentary life we have created for ourselves.

Obvious Contradiction:  Athletes must work harder.

Most qualified coaches, trainers and athletes will agree that in order to improve performance, athletes must workout at at heart rates well above 75%, and often up to 95% of maximum heart rate.

Isn't it about Getting Healthier and Fitter?

Okay.  So there are some people that are satisfied with the status quo.  Their health is great and their weight is fine.  If all things stayed the same, they may be able to work out at 50-75% of maximum heart rate and maintain their health.  However, most educated health and fitness professionals (and those in the exercise physiology labs) know that in order to IMPROVE fitness, one must exercise above their threshold.  Threshold is (to paraphrase Sally Edwards, Heart Zones USA, and expert in heart rate training) like a doorway.  On one side is comfortable and "aerobic".  But, cross over that doorway threshold, and you enter a world that is slightly uncomfortable and (to use an outdated term), anaerobic.   You must cross that threshold and go above it in order to IMPROVE your health.  Since threshold is a movable number, the good news is that you can improve it with proper and consistent training.  (Please contact Heart Zones USA for more information on training with a threshold system.)

Incorrect Statement #2:  Women 40-89 can find their MHR (maximum heart rate) by 200 minus 67% of their age; in men 40-89, it's 216 minus 93% of their age.

Using this formula has the potential to severely underestimate your maximum heart rate.

If I used this formula, my maximum heart rate would be calculated as 200-(67% of 50) = 166bpm.  I know, because I have tested myself, that my maximum heart rate is actually 195.  That's an error of 29 beats.  If I used Dr. Oz's recommendations of 50-75% of MHR, I would exercise in a target range of 86-124bpm.  I can tell you, from experience, that those heart rates are pretty insignificant to me, unless I'm walking my dog.  Working out, in fact, at these heart rates, will make me gain weight, unless I increased my time to at least double, if not triple my current load.  Because my maximum heart rate is 195, I typically (and I know I need to) work out at 125-165 for maximum benefits.  That's actually 65-85% of my real and true maximum heart rate.

I also know of a man, in his 90's, who has a maximum heart rate of 190.  In fact, last I heard, for his 93rd birthday, he rode well above his age-predicted maximum heart rate for 93 minutes!  If he had been using this "new" formula, his "age-predicted max" would have been 130, and he would have been advised to ride between 75 and 97bpm (50-75% MHR). 

These two examples clearly reflect how formulas can keep you from being fit and may, indeed, keep you fat and in ill health.

What to do about it?

I'm not one to simply complain and not offer a solution, so I simply recommend that you go to the experts in heart rate training for the common individual (and athlete), Heart Zones USA.  Heart Zones has created several simple and easy tests to help you determine your real maximum heart rate.  Once you determine your real maximum heart rate, you can train, not according to a "one shoe fits all" target heart rate range, but with a variety of heart rate workouts that will get you fit and make you fitter and faster, whatever your goal may be.

If you'd like some information on coaching plans that include heart rate, please contact me at kathy@365fitt.com.  I've been a partner with Heart Zones USA on many levels, leading national certifications across the country.  I continue to be an advocate for heart rate training as a means to get you healthy, get you fit and get you faster.  Let me know if I can help you out.

Living 365fitt,

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