High Intensity Exercises: A key to your action plan!

By Liz Yates Horton PT, DPT, NCS

Exercise is medicine when it comes to many conditions, with Parkinson's Disease not being an exception. Over the past 5-10 years there have been an increasing number of research studies looking at the different types of exercises. One of those has been high intensity exercise.

The benefits of high intensity exercise include

You may be wondering what high intensity exercise training is. It is defined as working at 80-85% of your maximum heart rate. Moderate intensity exercise is working at 60-65% of your maximum heart rate. Your next question may be how do I figure this out. There are 2 different ways to do this:

  • How hard are you working with the exercise: This is also called your perceived exertion. This can be different for different individuals who are doing the same exercises depending on fitness and health conditions.

  • Your heart rate during exercise. For most people the higher your heart rate is the higher the exercise intensity is. With that being said there are some medications that can slow down the rise of your heart rate, like beta blockers, so this may not be the best measurement for everyone.

Using perceived exertion:

So would moderate vs higher intensity exercise feel like? Moderate exercise feels somewhat hard - your breathing quickens, but you're not out of breath, you develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity, you can carry on a conversation, but you can't sing. Higher intensity exercise feels hard or challenging. You may feel it is hard to carry a conversation, your breathing may be deeper and quicker, and you may start sweating after a couple minutes. It should never feel like you are having difficulty breathing or that you are in pain. These are signs you may be pushing yourself too hard. Here is your free exertion scale download!

Using Heart Rate

You first want to figure out what your maximum heart rate is. This is helpful to determine what the upper threshold of physical activity you can perform. You can calculate this by subtracting your age from 220. An example of this would be if you are 55 years old, you would subtract 55 from 220 to get a max heart rate of 165 beats per minute. From here you can figure out what your heart rate target ranges for moderate and higher intensity.

  • Moderate exercise: .6 * 165 = 99 beats per minute

  • High intensity exercise: .8 * 165 = 132 beats per minute

There are lots of heart rate calculators out there on the internet to help with the math.

How to check your heart rate

- Stop and check your pulse at your wrist by placing 2 fingers on the side of your wrist by your thumb between the bone and the tendons.

- Take your pulse for 15 seconds and then multiple by 4 to get your beats per minute.

- It is helpful to practice prior to exercising so you can find the spot.

Remember this is only a guide and it may be helpful to discuss this with your physical therapist or doctor. It is also important to remember that certain medications may lower your heart rate so using the perceived exertion scale may be a better option to gauge how hard you are working.

Now get moving!


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