The optimum heart rate for burning fat is personal to each person and often does not tie in with the ‘fat-burning zones’ displayed on commercial exercise machines, a study has shown.

A personalised approach should be adopted instead, for “precision exercise” that supports people to achieve their fat loss targets, the researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have said.

They say that clinical exercise testing would be more useful – this is when someone’s physiological response to exercise is measured.

Lead author and PhD candidate Hannah Kittrell said: “People with a goal of weight or fat loss may be interested in exercising at the intensity which allows for the maximal rate of fat burning. Most commercial exercise machines offer a ‘fat-burning zone’ option, depending upon age, sex, and heart rate.

“However, the typically recommended fat-burning zone has not been validated, thus individuals may be exercising at intensities that are not aligned with their personalised weight loss goals.”

FATmax is a term used to describe the exercise level and heart rate at which the highest fat-burning takes place – the point at which fat is a substantial source of fuel.

The research team compared the FATmax heart rate of 26 individuals with the predicted heart rates used for the average recommended ‘fat-burning zones’. They found poor alignment between the two, meaning that general ‘fat-burning zones’ may not be accurate for everyone.

Senior author Girish Nadkarni, Irene and Dr. Arthur M. Fishberg Professor of Medicine, said: “We hope that this work will inspire more individuals and trainers to utilise clinical exercise testing to prescribe personalised exercise routines tailored to fat loss. It also emphasises the role that data-driven approaches can have toward precision exercise.”

The team plans to carry out further research to see if people who follow a more personalised exercise plan achieve greater weight and fat loss.

Read the study in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

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