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Heart monitors given tough workout

March 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sales of heart rate monitors are on the rise because more people want to make sure they're getting the maximum benefit from their workouts. Heart monitors can cost between $30 and $100 and are a great way to track your progress. So which ones work best?Terry Voltaggio says she uses a heart monitor whenever she exercises to make sure she's getting enough of a workout to strengthen her heart.

"My goal is to be between 140 beats per minute and 150 beats per minute," said Terry. "So when I look down and I'm at 120, I know it's time to ramp it up a little."

Voltaggio's monitor has a chest strap that continuously sends her heart-rate reading to a special watch receiver on her wrist. Consumer Reports tested eight heart-rate monitors while panelists exercised on a recumbent bike.

"We compared the accuracy of our tested models against the Holter monitor, which is similar to what your doctor uses to measure your heart activity," said Marc McEntee from Consumer Reports.

Besides chest-strap monitors, the tests included strapless types that measure the pulse in the finger. One from LifeSpan is worn as a ring, but it was not always accurate. With the other strapless monitors, you touch a watch face to get your reading. Although they were accurate, they have other drawbacks. One panelist complained of having to slow down to read it while exercising.

"We don't recommend the strapless heart-rate monitors for cyclists because you have to use two hands to get a reading," said McEnte. "And that's just not safe."

The chest-strap units let you exercise freely and safely. Two that cost around $50 earned top ratings -- the Acumen EON Basix Plus and the Timex Heart Rate Monitor, model number 5G971.

Terry has used her monitor for two years and says it's key to helping her keep her weight where she wants it.

Both heart rate monitors Consumer Reports recommends have alarms you can set to tell whether you've met your targeted heart rate. And of course, it's important to consult with your doctor to determine what your target heart rate should be.


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