A heart rate monitor senses and displays your heart rate. Walkers can use heart rate to adjust the intensity of their walk -- speeding up or slowing down to stay in their chosen heart rate zone. Two walkers going the same speed may be in different zones -- one barely working at all, the other near maximum and straining. As your fitness improves, you can walk faster at the same heart rate.
ECG-Accurate Monitors with Chest Strap
The most accurate heart rate monitors use a chest strap which fits snugly around your chest just below the breast. The transmitter detects the electrical activity of your heart just like an ECG. It relays this to a display, usually worn like a wristwatch, although some use earphones instead, or transmit to apps via Bluetooth. It is important for the strap to maintain contact or you get wild readings.
Continuous Heart Rate Monitors Without a Chest Strap
A new breed of devices began debuting in 2012 and 2013. Worn as a wristwatch or armband, they use optical sensors on the back of the device to continuously read your pulse through the skin. You get a real-time readout of your heart rate, just as with the chest strap monitors.
Heart Monitor Features
Basic models display only your heart rate, and perhaps elapsed exercise time. With increasing price you get a variety of useful features such as:
Heart rate zone alarm: Set the zone and it alerts you when you are high or low.
Timers: Countdown timer, stopwatch, interval timers, clock, alarm.
Time in zone, splits.
Display and Ease of Use
Besides features, shop for how easy it is to use. Can you read the numbers easily? Does it have a backlight for use in low light? Are there so many features that you will have to carry the manual to figure out how to use it each time? Are the buttons well labeled and easy to find and push?
Once you have chosen which features you want, it comes down to price. Sales are common and you can find a wide variation in the price of the same model. Shop around and you may be pleased to find your dream monitor for much less than suggested retail price.
These monitors work by detecting your pulse -- usually by placing one or two fingers on sensor buttons. They cannot give you a constant reading of your heart rate, you have to take it on demand instead. They are also trickier to use than the chest strap monitors -- cold fingers, etc. can give you no reading or wild readings.