How should it feel when I exercise?

How should it feel when I exercise?

Exercising to raise your heart rate is good for people with RA, according to research. It is actually so important that we have added a function to log it in the Elsa app. But how do I know my heart rate has gone up enough when I exercise? There are several ways to learn to appreciate how hard you are working out. Here are some simple options.

How does it feel?

Imagine you are walking at a challenging pace up a long hill. It will take several minutes to reach the top. Your heart rate rises, you feel it’s harder to breathe and your body is feeling heavy. You continue to fight further uphill, you do not give up, you actually increase the pace a little more even if it is hard. You're going right to the top! You get hot, your cheeks are rosy and maybe you’re even a little sweaty. It feels challenging and hard. Now imagine that you continue like this for a few minutes. Hey presto! That is what heart rate-boosting exercise feels like.

Pulse-pounding exercise

In order for something to be counted as heart-pounding training, the body's effort simply needs to reach a certain intensity. In short, the heart rate-boosting workout should be strenuous. Your body gets hot and you become short of breath. Maybe you can talk a few short sentences or words during the activity, but you prefer to focus on breathing. Heart rate-boosting training means your heart rate is at 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you have, for example, a maximum heart rate of 200, you will reach for example, a rate of 160-180. At this heart rate level, your fitness will improve.

What is my maximum heart rate?

Many of us do not know our maximum heart rate. Some people calculate an approximate value by subtracting their age from 220. For example, someone who is 40 years old gets a maximum heart rate of 180, because 220 minus 40 becomes 180. This is just an estimate and will of course not apply to everyone. If you want to immerse yourself in different ways to estimate your maximum heart rate, you can read more here (swe):

Estimating the maximum heart rate based on age is not entirely reliable. The best thing is to undertake a maximum heart rate test instead. It is (and should be) very tough and does not suit everyone. Another method of getting to know your body during physical activity a little better is to use the Borg scale.

The Borg Scale

The Borg scale is a way of appreciating one's own effort that can be used in heart rate-boosting training and also in other training. Simply put, you estimate your position on a scale between 11 and 20 where 11 is easy and 20 is your absolute max. It is not something you need to learn inside and out, but it can be a good tool to teach yourself how different intensities feel and "should" feel. It can be a convenient way to quickly appreciate the experience of training. It can also be a way to challenge yourself perhaps to increase the effort, or to push yourself to continue a little longer.

In the image below, there are three columns. Zone, Pulse and Borg scale. For heart rate raising training, the intensity should be at zone 2, heart rate 70-80 percent of maximum heart rate and in the Borg scale an estimate around 14-15. If you want to start using the Borg scale, it may be a good tip to examine your experience in different types of speeds/exercises /forms of training. How does it feel if, for example, you cycle up a hill? If you are taking part in a group training session with a focus on fitness, it could also be good to think about how you feel. Is it quite strenuous (13-14) or is it very strenuous (17-18)?

Interval training in walking form

In a study of 12 people with RA, interval training was performed in walking form for 10 weeks. Each week the group took part in 3 sessions of 30 minutes where the intervals were divided into 60 seconds with high intensity 80-90 percent maximum heart rate (Borg scale 16-18) and low intensity 50-60 percent of maximum heart rate (Borg scale 11-13). The results showed reduced disease activity, improved cardiovascular health and improved immune function. The study also showed that participants had a reduced risk of infection and reduced inflammatory levels. It was also shown that the training approach was perceived as gentle and effective by the participants. (1)

Heart rate-boosting cycling training provided better fitness and lowered blood pressure

In a study lasting 10 weeks, people with RA were allowed to cycle at medium to high intensity for 45 minutes three days a week. Afterward, their condition improved and their blood pressure had dropped. (2)

Cycling, for example on an exercise bike in the gym or a regular bike outdoors, can be a good alternative for you to practice heart rate-boosting exercise. Cycling is gentle on joints when compared to, for example, running. Try to raise the resistance so it gets a little heavier when you pedal!


  1. Bartlett, D., Willis, L., Slentz C., Hoselton, A., Kelly, A., Huebner, J., Kraus, V., Moss, J., Muehlbauer, M., Spielmann, G., Kraus, W., Lord, J & and Huffman, K. Ten weeks of high-intensity interval walk training is associated with reduced disease activity and improved innate immune function in older adults with rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study. Bartlett et al. Arthritis Research & Therapy (2018) 20:127 

  2. Hörnberg, K., Ångström, L & Wållberg-Jonsson, S. (2014) Benefits of spinning exercise on cardiovascular risk factors in rheumatoid arthritis: a pilot study. Umeå universitet, Medicinska fakulteten, Institutionen för folkhälsa och klinisk medicin, Reumatologi. Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal, ISSN 1541-7891, Vol. 25, nr 3, s. 68-74