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MATT ROBERTS: Keep testing your heart to get fitter 


I’ve read that the best way to know you’re exercising properly is to listen to your heart – as in, use a heart rate monitor to make sure you are getting your pulse up enough. 

At the moment, I’m going by the guidance that to find out your ideal maximum heart rate, it’s 220 minus your age. I’m 51, which means my goal is 169 beats per minute.

My resting heart rate is an athletic 50, and during my workouts I get it up to 180 for short, intense periods, quite comfortably. Am I training safely?

At the moment, I’m going by the guidance that to find out your ideal maximum heart rate, it’s 220 minus your age


Estimating maximum heart rate is just that – an estimation. The approach of 220 minus your age to give a theoretical maximum heart rate is, actually, not a bad one to use.

It is never going to be totally accurate, but it does at least give you a fairly good indication of what your maximum level may be.

A slightly varied version of this is to use your resting heart rate too if you want a more accurate working heart-rate indicator.

So, if you take 220, subtract your age, then subtract your resting heart rate (taken when you first wake up), then multiply by 0.85 (for an 85 per cent maximum working level), and finally ADD your resting heart rate back in again, you will find your working heart-rate level.

Again, it won’t be 100 per cent accurate but it gives you a great indicator.

If using the maths is too much of a faff, or you just want a broad indicator, you can easily use a simple ‘perceived exertion rate’.

This is just a scale of one to ten, in which you are unable to continue at ten, you can do ten to 20 seconds more work at nine, you can sustain at a high exertion at eight, and so on. At four to six, you are working only light to moderately.

These levels roughly correlate to your maximum heart rate, with seven equalling 70 per cent, for instance.

Short, intense bursts of activity, also known as high intensity interval training or HIIT, are enormously effective.

Short, intense bursts of activity, also known as high intensity interval training or HIIT, are enormously effective

Short, intense bursts of activity, also known as high intensity interval training or HIIT, are enormously effective

While I would employ a sensible degree of caution and self-awareness in terms of how you are feeling and also your ability, by pushing ourselves hard, we achieve the most back in return.

Overloading is a crucial part of exercise – we can’t grow if we don’t challenge ourselves.

Reduced blood pressure, controlled blood sugar, increased bone density, reduced cholesterol and lower weight and body fat are all highly proven benefits of working in this way.

Take some time to monitor your intensity and ask yourself whether you are working three to five times per week at a level that really challenges you. If you aren’t, it is very hard to keep making excuses for not making progress or to feel sorry for yourself. People who put in the effort achieve enormous, positive changes.


I am recovering from ankle-fusion surgery and have just been diagnosed with osteoporosis. My other foot will need extensive surgery in the coming year, a legacy of a car accident I was involved in many years ago. 

Therefore I have to be doubly careful. In the past I have attempted t’ai chi and Pilates. However, both regimes require a lot of flexing of the ankle, which is now impossible for me. I dislike gyms, but have been told I need to stay mobile and fit. What do you suggest?


Injuries set us back. They are demoralising, limiting and frustrating. Any leg damage, or injury, or range of motion limitation severely reduces our ability to really exert ourselves as much as we would like. 

However, the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis itself requires weight-bearing exercise to stress the bones in order to improve their density.

Do you have a fitness or diet question for Matt?

Mail or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT. Matt can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. 

Running is one of the best ways you can create vibrations and bone stress, as are skipping, dancing or anything else that involves you leaving the ground and landing. Tennis is good, as the effect of hitting something causes the same types of micro-trauma in the upper body.

Weight-training using the weight of just your body will make the muscles work harder and the bones feel more stress. The heavier the load, the greater the stress level and the effect.

Cycling, particularly on hills, is also a terrific way to increase fitness and bone density in the lower body.

We need to adapt and use whatever we can to cope with injury and illness – and when you try a new thing, it is remarkable how much of a buzz it can give you and provide the motivation needed to push to higher levels.

Claudia’s no slouch, Shirley… just relaxed 

I have to disagree with Strictly judge Shirley Ballas, who tore a strip off host Claudia Winkleman, for slouching last week – and even gave her a lesson, below, in what she sees as correct posture. 

If you watch Claudia, 45, on the show you’ll see she stands perfectly well – although, with a sort of leaning-in thing which is part of her engaging body language.

My concern is the misconception Shirley has (and I too once had) that holding the stomach in and standing up as straight as you can is the key.

It’s not, and this kind of posture can reduce our ability to breathe freely, which can lead to problems including anxiety. 

The answer is to develop enough core strength, through exercise, to stay comfortably upright without tensing. Sometimes though, you have to let it go and relax. 

You may have noticed that it’s particularly busy in the gym during September and October. It’s one of three periods in the year when gym usage hits its peak. 

January is all about New Year good intentions that last until about February; in May, summer is just around the corner; and now the summer is over, it’s time to recover from it before the next wave at Christmas time.

It happens every year, without fail. Why not think about whether you are doing enough generally? Don’t peak and trough – be consistent and hit the right levels every week!

Can too much exercise cause harm? Last month US researchers suggested that being underweight might be linked to an early menopause – before the age of 45. 

Women who were overweight or obese were at lower risk of the problem than those who were a healthy, lean weight. 

It’s just one study and it doesn’t contradict what we know for a fact: being fit, lean and the correct weight for your height is one of the best ways to stay healthy. 

Being very overweight has the opposite effect, and this is borne out by thousands of studies.