Harvard Heart Letter

How to choose and use a heart rate monitor

These devices can help you safely reach your fitness goals.

Whether you're just getting started with an exercise routine or are a committed fitness enthusiast, tracking your heart rate can be helpful. Heart rate monitors—which instantly tell you how fast your heart is beating—can help you exercise at the right intensity.

"The main advantage of using a heart rate monitor is that it provides an accurate index of how much effort you're exerting," says Dr. Aaron L. Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Even if you keep certain variables constant, such as the speed or distance you walk, your heart rate can vary due to other factors—for example, how hydrated you are or how tired you feel on a particular day, Baggish explains.

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