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The simple treadmill was ranked as the most effective piece of equipment for maintaining heart rate, according to a new study of women who used six common exercise machines.

The results are likely to be of interest to the millions of Americans who regularly work out on exercise equipment and for those who are involved in cardiac rehabilitation programs, which require them to exercise within a targeted heart rate zone.The study measured heart rate at various levels of effort among a group of 10 women with an average age of 32.

The women worked out on a treadmill, cross-country ski machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, exercise bike and a Schwinn Airdyne, a machine that involves cycling while at the same time exercising the arms.

At a "hard" level of effort, the volunteers reached an average heart rate of 182 beats per minute while first walking and then running on a treadmill.

That compares with 178 for the Airdyne, 176 for the stair stepper, 173 for the cross-country ski and rowing machines and 166 for the exercise bike.

Across a range of effort levels starting at "fairly light" and moving up to "hard," individual heart rates varied by as much as 20 beats on the different machines.

Martin Hoffman was one of the study's three authors and is co-director of the Sports Performance and Technology Laboratory at the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wisconsin. He said that even though women were used in the study exclusively, he believed the results could be applied across the general population.

The study did not specifically measure calorie expenditure. But because there is a close relationship between heart rate and calorie expenditure, the results also have implications for people interested in losing weight through exercise.

"We would expect that walking and running (on a treadmill) allows one to burn calories at a higher rate than other exercise modes," says Hoffman.

All six forms of exercise are effective at burning calories. Depending on the equipment and the level of effort, test subjects in a separate study were able to burn 600 to 850 calories an hour.

Carl Foster, an exercise physiologist with the Milwaukee Heart Institute, said the study shows that all six types of equipment are effective in attaining adequate levels of exercise.

But to maintain a particular heart rate, though, you'll feel like you are working harder with five of the machines compared to a treadmill, he adds.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)