Unless you’re going for a run or a ride in a laboratory, the only way you can accurately and objectively measure your fitness is with a heart rate monitor.
You don’t have to eat and sleep with your heart rate monitor on, or even use it every time you exercise. But the more you use it, the more information it can provide you.
The main and most obvious benefit of using a heart rate monitor is to determine your cardiovascular fitness. Your heart rate is controlled by your nervous system; it’s a constant balance between your sympathetic (the stress/fight or flight) and your parasympathetic (the rest and digest) branches.
As you improve your fitness, exercise – and life in general! – becomes less “stressful.” Your parasympathetic branch becomes more active, which slows your heart rate during both rest and exercise, and also brings your heart rate down more quickly after exercise.
An improvement in your cardiovascular fitness is the single best thing you can do for your health. It predicts health outcomes better than any single blood test, BMI calculation, or blood pressure measurement (tell that to your doctor at your next visit!). Your heart rate monitor is the tool to give you that information. And since it’s your nervous system that’s adapting, it only takes a few days to start seeing fitness-related changes to your heart rate.
The information your heart rate monitor provides isn’t just limited to your heart; over time, your heart beat analysis can start to paint a more comprehensive picture of your physiology.
This is because heart rate monitors do more than just measure your heart rate. They measure the time between heart beats. They measure the day-to-day variation in your heart rate, as well as how your heart rate varies with diet and time of day. This data is used to provide accurate predictions on your sleep quality, how your nervous system works, how much stress your body undergoes, how fatigued you are at any given time, or how you burn calories.
There is a direct, linear relationship between heart rate and oxygen consumption. The more oxygen you consume, the more calories you burn. Aside from directly measuring oxygen consumption, heart rate monitors will give you the most accurate prediction of how many calories you burn during an exercise bout.
However, just because your heart rate increases, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are burning more calories. For instance, when you get nervous, your heart rate increases. When you do some difficult resistance training, your heart rate goes up. But not because you just burned more calories.
When you’re nervous, your sympathetic nervous system (that “fight or flight” response) gets over-active. When you’re lifting weights, the flexing of your muscles makes it harder for your heart to pump blood, so your heart rate naturally increases to get that blood moving.
Did you know the difference? Your heart rate monitor did! That’s because of that heart beat variation analysis: it can tell the difference in your 140 beats per minute whether it’s happening during a training run or right before your live TV interview.
But your heart rate monitor isn’t just giving you great insight into your physiology. It also gives manufacturers and fitness tracking apps like Addaero the ability to improve their products, so you can continue to train better and accomplish your goals. That’s a win, win, win situation – you win twice.