Maximum Heart Rate Formula for Women

Mature women jogging in park, checking heart rate monitor wrist watch

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Trainers, fitness trackers, and cardio machines at the gym will often urge you to determine your maximum heart rate (MHR) to get the most effective workout. For women, it's important to know that the target heart-rate formulas that have been used for decades were derived from research on men.

These formulas appear to overestimate the maximum heart rate for women. A female-specific formula better predicts a woman's maximum heart rate based on her age.

Research on Maximum Heart Rate Formulas

While investigating how women's heart rates responded to exercise, cardiologist Martha Gulati and her colleagues concluded that "the traditional estimate of the maximum heart rate for age with exercise, based on a male standard, appears to be an overestimate in women."

As a result of these findings, Gulati proposed a female-specific MHR formula in a 2010 study.

In another study published in 2014, a different group of researchers validated Gulati's results. For their study, 19,000 people took a special treadmill test (a highly accurate measure of an individual's maximum heart rate).

The findings suggested that "a separate formula for peak HR in women appears to be appropriate."

The Fox formula (220 - age) and the Tanaka formula (206.9 - [0.67 * age]) have both been found to overestimate maximum heart rates for women.

Both studies found that the traditional formula used to calculate maximum heart rate (the Fox formula) as well as an updated version that better accounts for age (the Tanaka formula) overestimate maximum heart rate for women.

The Gulati Formula for Maximum Heart Rate in Women

Gulati and her colleagues wanted to find an accurate peak heart rate for women that could be used to predict their future health.

The researchers also wanted to ensure that women recovering from heart problems were given the right exercise intensity goals while recuperating (given an incorrect result, a woman might put her health in danger by trying to work out too hard).

Gulati's team came up with a new formula to calculate maximum heart rate for women.

Gulati's formula: 206 minus (0.88 * age) = MHR

Comparing Formula Results

Take a look at how target heart rate zones would be different using the female-specific maximum heart rate formula. For example, here are the results for a 49-year-old woman with a resting heart rate (RHR) of 65:

Traditional formulas (men and women):

  • Fox formula (men and women): 220 - 49 = 171 beats per minute MHR
  • Tanaka formula (men and women): 206.9 - (0.67 * 49) = 174 beats per minute MHR

New formula (women only):

  • Gulati formula (women only): 206 - (0.88 * 49) = 163 beats per minute MHR

There are also other factors. If you derive target heart zones using the Karvonen formula (which accounts for resting heart rate) you'll get a different result.

For a suggested exercise zone between 65% and 85% maximum, you can see how different the ranges are:

  • Fox formula: 133 to 155 beats per minute
  • Tanaka formula: 136 to 158 beats per minute
  • Gulati formula: 129 to 148 beats per minute

The research findings suggest that women might be struggling to reach a certain exercise intensity. Even if she is fit, a woman may find it difficult to achieve a maximum heart rate that has been overestimated.

The Bottom Line

Unless you're an elite athlete or a cardiac patient, you might not need to pinpoint your target heart rate when you exercise—following the scale of perceived exertion might be all you need.

If you are a woman and you want to get the best information about your target heart rate, use the Gulati formula combined with the Karvonen formula.

Keep in mind that these formulas are based on population statistics. An individual woman's actual maximum heart rate can vary significantly from one provided by these formulas.

The only way to know your maximum heart rate is to have it measured on a maximal treadmill test.

Even the best formula can only make an estimate of your maximum heart rate. This is another reason the perceived exertion scale is the most practical way to estimate how hard you are working during exercise.

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Article Sources
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  1. Gulati M, Shaw LJ, Thisted RA, Black HR, Bairey merz CN, Arnsdorf MF. Heart rate response to exercise stress testing in asymptomatic women: the st. James women take heart project. Circulation. 2010;122(2):130-7. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.939249

  2. Sydó N, Abdelmoneim SS, Mulvagh SL, Merkely B, Gulati M, Allison TG. Relationship between exercise heart rate and age in men vs women. Mayo Clin Proc. 2014;89(12):1664-72. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.08.018

  3. American Heart Association. Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health.

Additional Reading
  • Fletcher GF, Ades PA, Kligfield P, et al. Exercise standards for testing and training: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013;128(8):873-934. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829b5b44

  • Gellish RL, Goslin BR, Olson RE, Mcdonald A, Russi GD, Moudgil VK. Longitudinal modeling of the relationship between age and maximal heart rate. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(5):822-9. DOI: 10.1097/mss.0b013e31803349c6

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