No difference in peak heart rate for men and women

Research made by scientists at CERG shows no difference in peak heart rate between men and women.

“When taking the margins of error into consideration, we found no evidence of any particular difference in peak heart rate between men and women,” post doc. at CERG, Bjarne Nes, says.

Foto: Geir Mogen

Foto: Geir Mogen

At the end of March CBS News published the article Exercise affects men’s and women’s hearts differently . A team led by Dr. Thomas Allison, director of stress testing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, reviewed 25,000 stress-test results. They saw significant differences between men and women. The peak heart rate declines with age for both sexes, but Allison’s group found that the rate declines more gradually in women.

“What can be the reasons why Allison’s group found a significant difference between genders, and you here on CERG found none?”

“As maximal exercise testing should be supported by several criteria’s for maximal work, any gender differences in maximal heart rate should be supported by data documenting the test was performed to exhaustion. In our data from the HUNT-fitness study this is available, and we document maximal effort during tests both in men and women. An explanation for difference between genders in maximal heart rate in other databases could be due to lack of maximal effort during the tests, and this being more pronounced in women than in men”, researcher Trine Karlsen says.

Trine Karlsen

Trine Karlsen

Today doctors use the formula “220 minus age” to determine how hard patients should work out during exercise stress tests, and many people also use it to set their target heart rate during workouts. Based on their research, the Allison group developed a new formula that takes sex differences into account. Maximum heart rate for women aged 40 to 89 should be 200 minus 67 percent of their age. For men, the preferred formula is 216 minus 93 percent of their age, the study authors said.

Both Nes and Karlsen welcome new formulas for calculation of peak heart rate if they are based on solid data.

“However, test procedures should be uniform and in the end of the day, data from different populations should be united”, Nes says.

Bjarne Nes

Bjarne Nes

He and Karlsen agree with Allison`s group that 220-age is out-of-date, and argue for this in the article “Expected maximal peak heart rate”. This formula underestimates the maximal effort of middle-aged and elderly people, also in men according to their data. A clinical consequence could be that an exercise stress test is terminated too early, since a considerable level of effort is often necessary to detect signs of cardiovascular problems such as ischemia.

Allison’s team also found that younger men have a lower resting heart rate than women. In addition, men’s heart rates rise more dramatically during exercise and return to normal more quickly after stopping, the researchers said.

A CERG study by Javaid Nauman also based on data from the HUNT Fitness Study (2007–2008), shows that men have lower resting heart rate than women, 73 vs 76 beats per minute (bpm).

Andrea Hegdahl Tiltnes, CERG

This entry was posted in Exercise by CERG. Bookmark the permalink.

About CERG

The Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) seeks to identify the key mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of physical on cardiac health in the context of disease prevention and treatment. Named the K.G. Jebsen Center for Exercise in Medicine under Professor Ulrik Wisløff's leadership in 2011, CERG uses both top-down and bottom-up approaches to combat lifestyle-related disease.

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