How To Work With Your Heart Rate

Note: If you don't want to read the whole story, skip to the bottom to find out how to calculate your heart rate!

Last May, I was given an incredible gift. I went an entire day without pain. 

I couldn't believe it. 

My mom was visiting me for Mother's Day and I was so excited, I ran into her room and jumped on the bed, my eyes filling with tears. I hadn't gone a day without pain in almost a decade!

I went to bed that night with my heart full of gratitude. I couldn't sleep. I didn't know how long this could last and I wanted to appreciate every single moment. 

Luckily for me, that day was just the beginning. With the pain gone, I started noticing other symptoms that I'd forgotten about. Symptoms that had been drowned out by the constant tidal wave of severe chronic pain. 

But before I knew it, those symptoms started to dissipate as well. I prayed every night, swimming in gratitude and not asking for anything, because I was already getting so much more than I thought possible. 

It got to the point where the only time I was getting symptoms was when I exercised.

I loved to lift heavy, do sprints, and run up the stair master. Anything that made me feel strong, powerful, and soaked in sweat, but it left me with numbness in my feet and heavy fatigue. I'd been doing this workout for years, despite the plateau on the scale, but I felt I needed to keep it up if I was ever going to finish losing weight. 

I brought it up with my doctor and we made a deal. He told me that, if I start getting symptoms, I should take a break and drink some water. I agreed and made the promise.  

Just the next day, I'd had a rough time at work and I was READY for a workout. I hopped on the stair master and set it to a level 7, essentially running up the stairs.

Oh man, it felt great. Hip hop music pumped through my headphones as sweat started pouring through my shirt. I was absolutely crushing it and the stress of the day was just starting to melt away when all of a sudden, my feet went numb. I hadn't even been on the machine for 5 minutes!

But, I'd made a promise, so I stepped off the stair master and grabbed some water. As I stood there, waiting for some sort of sign that I could get back on, I realized how hard my heart was pounding. I decided to take my pulse and realized... I have no idea what that number means, so, I did what anyone else does when they don't know something - I googled it. 

I discovered the different heart rate ranges and how, by pushing myself so hard, I was putting myself in my fight or flight stage. My body didn't understand why I was literally running up the stairs and it immediately assumed that I must be in danger.  Why else would I be pushing myself so hard? 

When you're in your fight or flight, there's a bunch of chemical reactions happening in your body, but I'll simplify it for the sake of my long winded story. 

In regards to this conversation - fight or flight does two very important things. First, it burns your sugar stores so you have enough energy to either run from or fight an attacker. Second, it creates inflammation around your cells and tissue, just in case you get tussled up in an attack or a fall from running. 

By stressing yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, you're constantly burning sugar which means, yep - you guessed it, those sugar stores need to be restored as soon as you're out of your fight or flight state (and into homeostasis). That's why we all get that craving around 4pm to hit the vending machine for carbs or sugar and why binge eating is so prominent at night when you're at home in front of the TV. 

You can be "good" on your diet all day, but if you push yourself too hard, you will have no choice but to refuel. Your body's desire to survive is significantly stronger than your willingness to hit a goal. 

I stood there at the base of the stair master in shock. All these years, I'd been working this hard just to make it even harder for myself to hit my weight loss goals! I was creating inflammation in my body which stimulates my immune system AND setting myself up to binge! Sure, I was burning calories and building strength, but they were calories that I'd most likely make up (and more) later that night!

To say the least, I was pretty upset, but then I had another thought. If I was in my fight or flight, I was also stimulating my central nervous system so that my brain and spine could tell my body how to react to "danger". Not only was I creating inflammation, I was literally stimulating my disease and the numbness in my feet was my body's way of telling me I was going too hard. 

I couldn't believe it, but it made so much sense. 

That night, I researched how to monitor my heart rate effectively. I quickly discovered my "fat burning range" and decided to try it out for the entire week. 

Turns out, I didn't need the whole week to see results. 

The next time I got on the stair master, I had to drop the speed from a level 7 to a level 1. It was brutally slow, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was actually sweating more than I did when I was running. Best of all? I did the entire workout without any MS symptoms. 

Breaking binge eating came later, I still had to reprogram that habit, but working on it became significantly easier after I stopped making it a chemical demand. 

Now, it's been almost a year since I started monitoring my heart rate and not only do I avoid symptoms during my workout, but I go completely symptom free almost every single day. I still have this disease, but I no longer have to live in the experience of it, and that has been an incredible blessing. 

My target heart rate range is 115 - 133 beats per minute because I'm 29 years old. You can find yours by finding 60 - 70% of your max heart rate by following a simple equation. See my example below and then do it for yourself! 

(220 - 29) x .6  = 115

and (220 - 29) x .7 = 133 

It's too simple to ignore and if you struggle with binge eating or have a disease that is triggered by inflammation, you're doing yourself an injustice by not following your heart rate.

Do you monitor your heart rate? If so, comment below and let me know what benefits you get from it! 

With love & light,

Carolyn