Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Does a beta blocker interfere with exercise?

Q. My doctor recently put me on Tenormin because my blood pressure was getting high. Now, when I run or row, I can't get my heart rate much above 115 beats per minute even though my peak heart rate should be 136. Is the beta blocker keeping me from getting the full benefit of exercise?

A. Although your heart now beats more slowly when you run and row, rest assured that your heart, arteries, lungs, muscles, and the rest of you are getting the full benefit of exercise.

Atenolol (Tenormin) and other beta blockers slow the heart at rest and limit how fast it can beat during exercise. Your body doesn't much notice this, but it certainly complicates the use of the standard equations for estimating peak heart rate, 220 minus age for men and 206 minus (age times 0.88) for women.

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