There’s probably been a time when you’ve needed to speed walk and really push the pace as you were walking to get somewhere on time. Perhaps you were late to catch a flight or out on a walk and realized that it was later than you thought and you had to get home as soon as possible.
You probably started swinging your arms more vigorously and trying to take longer and faster steps to walk as briskly as possible. Another thing you probably noticed is that your heart rate increased while walking, particularly with brisk walking.
But, what is the average walking heart rate based on age? What factors affect your average heart rate while walking? Keep reading to find out!
In this guide, we will cover:
- Why Does Your Heart Rate Increase While Walking?
- Factors that Affect Your Average Walking Heart Rate
- What’s A Normal Walking Heart Rate?
Let’s get started!
Why Does Your Heart Rate Increase While Walking?
Before we aim to determine the average heart rate while walking, it’s helpful to cover the basics in terms of the physiology of the heart during exercise.
The heart is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, a branch of the nervous system that automatically controls functions such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, under unconscious control.
In other words, these functions occur without our deliberate attention to them.
The autonomic nervous system is further divided into two opposing subdivisions: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The dynamic interplay between these two antagonistic subdivisions helps determine your heart rate at any given time, whether it is your resting heart rate vs heart rate while walking or doing some other form of exercise.
The sympathetic nervous system, which is commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight“ nervous system, responds to any sort of real or perceived physical or emotional stress.It has a stimulatory effect on your heart rate. Therefore, when activated, the sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate.
Nerves connect to a specialized region of the heart known as the sinoatrial, or SA node. This is a special bundle of nerves near the heart’s atria that functions as the “pacemaker“ of the heart.
Essentially, the sinoatrial node sets the rate and rhythm by which the chambers of your heart (atria and ventricles) contract. The sinoatrial node controls the electrical conduction through the heart so that the chambers contract and relax in a specific order to make the heart beat.
During exercise, the sympathetic nervous system is activated because exercise is a physical stress on the body.
The muscles and heart need more oxygen to contract forcefully and powerfully to facilitate your movement.
Therefore, nerves in the sympathetic nervous system communicate with the sinoatrial node of the heart and increase the heart rate above your resting heart rate.
The degree to which your heart rate increases while walking or performing some other type of exercise depends on the intensity of the exercise and your fitness level, as well as the physical demand of the type of exercise itself.
The more intense the exercise is, and the greater the percentage of your total muscle mass involved in the movement, the faster your heart rate will get.
Working in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest“ nervous system that slows down your heart rate during times of relative calm when there is no physical or emotional stress on the body.
For example, your parasympathetic nervous system is primarily in control when you are lying in bed and taking your resting heart rate.
Nerves from the parasympathetic nervous system also innervate the SA node of the heart, but they cause a slowing of the electrical impulses sent by the pacemaker, decreasing the heart rate.
Factors that Affect Your Average Walking Heart Rate
With those basics covered, it can be seen that your average heart rate while walking will be higher than your resting heart rate because your body is physically active, and your muscles and heart will need more oxygen.
However, the actual heart rate while walking that you will attain is, again, largely dependent on numerous factors, including your age, sex, fitness level, and the intensity of your walking workouts.
There can also be other contributing factors, such as medications, additional stress, and genetics.
Let’s briefly touch on each of these and how they may affect your average heart rate while walking:
Your age will have a significant effect on your average heart rate while walking.
Maximum heart rate declines rather linearly with age, so older adults will have a lower average walking heart rate than younger adults when walking at the same relative intensity.
Men typically have a higher maximum heart rate than women, so when comparing the average walking heart rate at the same intensity between a biological male and a biological female, the heart rate for the man might be slightly higher.
Some amount of your maximum heart rate is determined by your genetics and how your own nervous system controls your heart.
That is why age-predicted maximum heart rate equations have such a wide margin of error or standard deviation, typically around 11 to 12 beats. There is a fair amount of individual variability between maximum heart rates.
Stress further activates the sympathetic nervous system and can increase your resting heart rate and heart rate during walking.
Certain medications affect your heart rate in either direction. For example, some antihistamines and stimulants will increase your heart rate while beta blockers and other hypertensive medications may decrease your heart rate while walking because they slow the heart’s pacemaker.
Intensity of Your Walks
Perhaps the most significant factor that will affect your average walking heart rate is the effort or intensity level at which you are walking. Whether you are trying to speed walk, walking up an incline, or walking carrying a heavy load, your heart rate while walking will be higher than when you are taking a leisurely stroll.
Although the intensity of exercise will yield a similar heart rate while walking between walkers of the same age, if you are looking at the average walking heart rate at a certain pace, or walking speed, fitter individuals will have a lower heart rate while walking at that speed then beginners or deconditioned individuals.
Cardiovascular adaptations that take place in response to consistent aerobic training improve the efficiency of your heart and cardiovascular system as a whole, allowing for a lower average heart rate while walking or performing exercise.
What’s A Normal Walking Heart Rate?
With all of the aforementioned factors, it becomes evident that it’s not easy to describe a specific normal heart rate while walking for all individuals.
According to Dr. Stephen Hammill, a Cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, a 10- to 15-minute brisk walk typically raises the heart rate to 110 to 120 beats per minute.
However, aside from this general ballpark, the best approach is to look at the guidelines for physical activity and then determine the average heart rate while walking for different age groups.
There are many age-predicted maximum heart rate equations, all of which have some margin of error. The simplest equation, 220 – age in years, is suitable enough for this situation to provide at least a general target heart rate range while walking by age.
Of course, keep in mind that your own maximum heart rate might be 10 to 12 beats higher or lower than that suggested by this equation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the moderate-intensity cardio zone increases your heart rate to 50-70% of your max, while the vigorous cardio zone elevates your heart rate to 70-85% of your maximum.
Therefore, we can say that your average walking heart rate should fall somewhere between 50 to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Thus, the following table shows the approximate target heart rate while walking based on age:
|Age||Maximum Heart Rate (bpm)||Moderate-Intensity Walking Target Heart Rate (bpm)||Vigorous-Intensity Walking Target Heart Rate (bpm)|
Wearing a heart rate monitor during walking workouts can help you make sure you are elevating your heart rate into the right zones in order to meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation.
These guidelines state that you should accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.
To get started walking today, take on our 30-Day Walking Challenge For Beginners.