Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is it dangerous for me to go over my target heart rate?

Ask the doctor

Is it dangerous for me to go over my target heart rate?

Q. I am 79 years old and exercise five days a week, three on the treadmill for my heart and two for strength training. Because I complained of chest pain one day (which I believe was due to my gastroesophageal reflux), my doctor sent me for a thallium stress test. Although the cardiologist stopped the test after three and a half minutes because I went way over my target heart rate, the report he sent to my internist said that I passed. My resting heart rate is on the high side, at 80""85 beats per minute, and it rises quickly when I exercise. I am now afraid to go faster than 2 miles an hour on the treadmill, and I don't feel like I'm getting a real workout. Is it dangerous for me to go over my target heart rate?

A. First off, congratulations on your commitment to keeping your heart and body fit. If your exercise test was, indeed, normal, I see no reason for you to change your exercise program or to base your exercise routine on your heart rate.

I'm not completely sure what your cardiologist meant when he said you "passed" the stress test. I assume it means your heart maintained a normal rhythm (sinus rhythm) as your heart rate went up and that you didn't develop any chest pain, dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, or other worrisome symptoms. In some people, the heart rate goes up quickly with exercise because an abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia) develops. Your cardiologist almost certainly would have told your doctor about that if it had happened, but you might want to check with your doctor to be sure.

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