Keeping a close watch on your heart rate

Although a heart-rate monitor isn't essential for the average exerciser, the devices can be helpful. "The most cardiovascular benefits come from working between 70% and 85% of your maximum heart rate," says Barry Franklin, director of cardiac rehabilitation and exercise laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. "So monitoring your heart rate is a very simple way of assessing the intensity of the exercise. It's a real plus from that perspective." Franklin added that heart-rate monitors are "extremely valuable" for those with cardiac-related medical conditions, such as a previous heart attack, high blood pressure or bypass surgery.

But many people don't like the monitor's chest strap, which can be uncomfortable. Freestyle EZ Pulse is one of a new breed of strapless monitors.

Freestyle EZ Pulse: This model requires the user to press an index finger and thumb onto two points on the watch face. Using electronic currents, the monitor sends back a heart-rate reading. "About 10% of our customers are people who are seriously training for a marathon or triathlon," said Billy Berger, executive vice president of Freestyle USA. "And the rest of the people are just interested in what their heart rate is before, during and after they're active."

Price: About $100, available at Sport Chalet stores.

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