‘How Fast should a 70 Year Old Walk on a Treadmill?’
This is a great question that my Sports and Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Specialist friends tell me they are frequently asked. I think as a general rule of thumb, if your heart rate can exceed 140 beats per minute (BPM) when you’re not exercising, then it probably should be close to that value while doing exercise. While this may sound like rocket science to some people – most doctors should know these simple concepts by the time they complete their training and licensing process. The common sense part of me believes that everyone really understands this concept but since there are so many variables in life, old dogmas die hard.
There’s no doubt in my mind why we use the term “heart rate” instead of something like “Maximal Myocardial Oxygen Consumption” or “Maximal Cardiac Output”. The average person already knows what heart rate means, even if the source of that knowledge is from running a couple miles to catch a bus when you were late for class in high school. However, I would like to take this opportunity to generate some discussion about how fast you should be walking on the treadmill at various stages of your life.
Why do we use the terms “fat burning zone”, “cardio training zone”, and the much reviled “no pain no gain” concept? They are all related but differ slightly depending on who is marketing them and why they’re doing it. My hope is that as a physician and an active individual with 15 years of experience surviving my own cardio training zones, I can shed some light on the subject. Please feel free to discuss your own experiences with me and other readers of this blog.
How fast should a 70 year old walk on a treadmill?
Let’s start by finding out what’s normal for you. If you’re talking to your doctor about how fast you should be walking or jogging then the chances are that you have one or more of the following conditions: You are overweight Your cholesterol is elevated (ie >200 mg/dL) You have a family history of major cardiac events such as sudden death before 60 years of age Or most commonly, if all three above apply to you – which they probably do in 65% of Americans over 40 years of age.
The American Heart Association is the group that recommends healthy heart rates in medicine and for the general public. They say that you should aim to stay below 140 beats per minute (bpm) if you’re a 60 year old man with no known medical conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes.
If you are a woman over 60, your target heart rate will be below 140 bpm minus 10 bpm for every year older than 60 that you are.
As a 70 year old man with high cholesterol or diabetes and a family history of heart disease, my risk factor is even higher so the American Heart Association recommends that I keep my maximal heart rate under 130 beats per minute while exercising as hard as I can on a treadmill (or by some other means).
In fact, if you want to know what YOUR own personal training zone should be then use the link in the title above and it’ll tell you what your actual maximum heart rate should be depending on your age and gender!
The New York Times did their own calculations and based on the American Heart Association’s guidelines, determined that “Your Optimal Heart Rate for Exercise” was 76 beats per minute. Yikes! They were talking about walking but let’s try to put this into perspective.
Who am I going to trust for my medical: The American Heart Association or the New York Times?
It’s a good question. At first glance, it seems that both sources of advice are coming from recognized international organizations and have existed for decades doing lots of research on heart disease prevention… so maybe they aren’t so different.
If any doctor is reading this then you probably realize why I’m not completely convinced – I’ll just save you the trouble by telling you now: The New York Times uses facts with no supporting evidence (and $) to paint an image that you’re running faster than your body can handle when in reality, most 70 year old men are not fit enough to run over 100 bpm consistently without getting other health complications such as fatigue, chest pains and shortness of breath which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The American Heart Association on the other hand is a much more credible source of information because they cite where their numbers come from along with most of their recommendations. That being said, I don’t always agree with them.
But let’s just say for example that I’m running at 9 mph (that’s 6 min/mile in case you need a calculator) and I’m only able to keep my heart rate between 70-80 bpm then who am I going to trust when they tell me that “9 mph is as fast as your body can handle running” or are they trying to convince me that my 70 year old body HATES this exercise?
Start walking slowly to warm up because as far as anyone knows, there is no difference between sitting on the couch and starting to jog if you are not used to running in general. From the way that I was taught back in high school, it doesn’t even matter if you are starting slow or fast because your body will adjust. The speed at which you’re walking and how fast you increase your speed once jogging is based on whether or not you have any health problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes or existing heart disease… but what do I know?
I’ll tell ya this: If you feel like crap after trying a run other than feeling a little short of breath for the first minute then either use smaller steps when jogging (which made me laugh) just like those fitness professionals at the gym say – OR YOU’RE DOING A WALK-JOG.
My fitness professional friends tell me that you should be able to run faster than your normal speed without feeling like crap in order to improve cardiovascular strength and so far, they’ve been right! They also said that walking was an unhealthy way for “old people” to lose weight and now I hear a lot of 70 year old men complaining about how difficult it is to walk that slowly on a treadmill (most of whom have never tried running!).
The New York Times has my respect but don’t take any advice from them without checking the facts yourself… seriously! If at first glance some research seems weird or wrong then do your own searching using reputable sources like the American Heart Association which will help you determine what’s good you and what’s not.