heart rateThis week I’ve begun to make amends for a harm I’ve been unwittingly doing to myself. It involves figures, fitness, and heart rate monitoring.


I have often looked at the numbers on the machines at the gym and thought, “What is more important: the resistance level, the time lapsed, the heart rate, or the calories burned?” Since I’m recovering from compulsive overeating, I cannot focus on the calories burned, or it might make me feel entitled to something extra. I decided that no one of the other numbers was any more or less important than the rest, but that the most important number was “one” – that is one me in this one gym, on this one piece of equipment, one moment at a time. There was a time when just walking through the door of that place was reason to celebrate. As God is instructing me through His various ministers, however, I am learning I need to take a few of these numbers more seriously.


When I began working out in a gym, my employer offered free 18-week memberships to what was called “high-intensity training” sessions. I considered that anything with an end date would likely be a problem for me, and an 18-week program would spell a 19th week relapse into sloth, so I declined the offer and went to the cheap gym near my house with no trainer. I bragged to my friends, who I thought were suckers for taking the bait on the high-intensity programs, mine was a “low-intensity” workout, one which I planned to continue even into my seventies and eighties, God willing. I found a fairly self-explanatory express corral of all the resistance machines I need for a “total-body workout” and I improvised off my physical therapist’s instruction for my warm-up and cool down. The improvisation is where the rub is.


I thought that, since my PT had me constantly pushing myself to do more since my knee surgery, I would just continue doing more and more as I was able. So I beefed up the resistance every time it got easy, and ramped up the pace when I thought I could. Pretty soon I was making that elliptical machine whistle at ten or more miles per hour for fifteen minutes on a resistance level of 12. What I ignored, in my ignorance, was my heart rate. I partly ignored it because I didn’t really know what it should be, and partly because I was ashamed that my rate would be so high with so little work as I started out doing. At the peak of my body weight, my resting pulse was often in the 140s. I was so desperately out of shape!


A couple weeks ago, I began running and chatting at length with trainers and other runners. What I am learning is that my heart rate matters more than all the other numbers combined. Apparently, I am doing more harm than good when I let my heart rate soar like I have. I was kicking two and a half miles in fifteen minutes, but my heart rate was always near the maximum for my age (175 for a 45 year-old, according to the American Heart Association). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends even the most vigorous exercise be done at 70% to 85% of the maximum heart rate. An average max heart rate is calculated by subtracting the subject’s age from 220, rendering mine 175 (220 – 45 = 175). So my ideal exercise target should be between 122.5 and 148.75. I have occasionally used some heart rate monitoring equipment, and have regularly exceeded 180 bpm, only dipping down into the 140s and 160 when doing the step-ups between resistance machines. I spend five minutes cooling down at the end of my workouts, just to get my heart beating less than 110 again, so I can drive home without being drunk on oxygen. I was doing “high-intensity training” without knowing it, and need to tone it down.


So, starting this past week, I have intentionally taken a milder pace for my elliptical warm-ups, but have given it all I’ve got during the resistance training, taking full advantage of the step-ups in between machines to recover. Whatever slack there may be in overall work done is more than compensated by my running three times a week.


For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8, NIV


Dear Father, thank You for the transformation You are making in me. Continue to reveal to me Your will regarding my health and well-being, and enable me to perform it. Thank You for my progress, and for the promise that You are making me something new.