How to Calculate & Target Your Fat-Burning Heart Rate

Have you ever wondered what the "fat-burning zone" on a treadmill is all about? The idea behind a "fat-burning heart rate" is based on the fact that the body uses different energy stores depending on the intensity of a workout. In reality, weight loss and energy expenditure is a more complicated process.

This article reviews fat-burning heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise, how to calculate it, and drawbacks to making it the focus of your workouts.

woman exercising on treadmill

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Calculating Fat-Burning Heart Rate

Fat-burning heart rate is about 64%–76% of your maximum heart rate, which is estimated based on age.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise, which often corresponds to what is known as fat-burning heart rate, is estimated at about 50%–70%.

A person's fat-burning heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise can be calculated, depending on the maximum level of either 64% or 76%, by:

  • (220 - your age) X 0.64
  • (220 - your age) X 0.76

Average Fat-Burning Heart Rate Ranges by Age

The AHA provides the following target heart rates for moderate-intensity exercise by age:

 Age  Fat-burning heart rate (beats per minute)
 20 years 100–170 bpm
 30 years 95–162 bpm 
 40 years 90–153 bpm
 50 years 85–145 bpm
 60 years 80–136 bpm
 70 years 75–128 bpm

Monitoring Heart Rate During Workouts

Many treadmills, elliptical machines, and other cardio equipment have special sensors that you can use to see your heart rate.

Other wearable devices, like heart rate monitors and smart watches, can give information on heart rate without requiring you to alter your posture during exercise.

Exercises for Fat Burning

Energy sources for exercise vary based on the intensity of the activity. At lower levels of activity, the proportion of energy derived from fat is higher. At vigorous levels of activity, more energy is derived from carbohydrate breakdown.

The best exercise program is one that you find enjoyable and keeps you engaged. A mix of cardio and strength training is ideal for cardiovascular fitness.

The following exercises can help burn fat and calories:

  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Dance
  • Golf
  • Tennis

Recommended Exercise

The AHA recommends getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, but adding any amount of physical activity to a sedentary lifestyle is beneficial.

Effectiveness of Targeting Fat-Burning Heart Rate

While a fat-burning heart rate sounds like an appealing way to lose weight, it's not the only consideration. You can think of weight loss in simple terms of total caloric intake minus calories burned.

Caloric intake depends mainly on the consumption of macronutrients, like fat, carbohydrates, protein, and more. These contain variable amounts of calories per gram, ranging from 4–9 calories/gram.

Fiber also plays a role in caloric intake, since insoluble fiber is not absorbed.

Furthermore, studies have taken into consideration the role of the "gut microbiome" (the microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, in the gastrointestinal tract) in weight loss and metabolism, as well as the number of health conditions a person has.

Energy Expenditure

The amount of calories burned in a day is known as energy expenditure. Your body requires a significant amount of energy, even while resting, for basic processes like heartbeats and breathing to take place. This is known as the resting metabolic rate. Any exertion beyond that burns more calories, which are obtained from a breakdown of carbohydrates and fat.

Any form of exercise will require energy and will, therefore, burn calories. In a low-intensity cardio exercise, like walking, the proportion of fat used for energy may be higher, but it will take much longer to burn as many calories compared to a vigorous 20-minute run.

Summary

Though it can be mistaken for a weight loss metric, fat-burning heart rate is based on the idea that at certain levels of physical activity, energy is burned from fat. The amount of energy is dictated by the level of intensity of a workout. Fat-burning heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise is calculated based on your age and maximum heart rate.

A Word From Verywell

Too often society equates being healthy with being thin. In reality, fitness comes in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of body weight, cardiovascular fitness is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Rather than focusing on a heart rate zone on a treadmill, being active in ways that you enjoy—like walking, swimming, and taking dance classes—can make fitness something you look forward to.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of exercises burn the most fat?

    When it comes to the proportion of energy derived from fat, it's actually lower-intensity exercises that burn more fat than carbs. However, it will take a lot longer to burn the same amount of calories at a low-intensity exercise compared to a more vigorous activity, like running.

  • What is the best heart rate to burn fat?

    This depends on age. The fat-burning heart rate is estimated as about 70% of maximum heart rate, or (220 - your age) X 0.7.

  • How long should you exercise in the fat-burning zone?

    The AHA recommends getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, but doubling that provides even more benefits. If you want to exercise five days out of the week, 30 minutes spent in the "fat-burning zone" will accomplish the minimum recommendation.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Target heart rate and estimated maximum heart rate.

  2. American Heart Association. Target heart rates chart.

  3. American Heart Association. Recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids.

  4. Diener C, Qin S, Zhou Y, et al. Baseline gut metagenomic functional gene signature associated with variable weight loss responses following a healthy lifestyle intervention in humans. mSystems. 2021;6(5):e0096421. doi:10.1128/mSystems.00964-21

By Angela Ryan Lee, MD
Angela Ryan Lee, MD, is board-certified in cardiovascular diseases and internal medicine. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and holds board certifications from the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the National Board of Echocardiography. She completed undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Biology, medical school at Jefferson Medical College, and internal medicine residency and cardiovascular diseases fellowship at the George Washington University Hospital. Her professional interests include preventive cardiology, medical journalism, and health policy.