If you have hypertension, have suffered a heart attack, or are simply trying to reduce your risk of heart conditions, then exercise should be a key part of your life.

Still, establishing a routine of beneficial cardiovascular activity can be more difficult than you might think. Aside from finding the time and motivation to work out, you also need a way to tell how much benefit you're actually receiving.

If you haven't invested in a heart rate monitor yet, it can be extremely beneficial. Here's why you should consider picking one up.

It can help you determine your maximum heart rate

Many workouts that involve heart rate monitors, if not all of them, will require you to know your maximum heart rate in order to determine your target heart rate. While this may seem like a daunting process, it's actually remarkably simple once you've obtained a heart rate monitor and determined how to use it.

Simply wear the heart rate monitor for the duration of a very challenging cardiovascular workout and note the highest beats per minute mark that it records. This is your maximum possible heart rate, a rate more strenuous than what’s recommended for healthy exercise. Typically, your heart should beat no harder than between 85 and 90 percent of that maximum during strenuous workouts.

As Fitday notes, your maximum and target heart rates will change over time, so be sure to go through this measuring exercise every few months to ensure that you're still using the right data.

It can help you keep your tempo

One of the best ways to build overall fitness is through tempo training. This sort of workout focuses on maintaining a certain level of exertion throughout your exercise session.

A heart rate monitor can show you exactly what your heart rate is at any point in time during your workout. This way, you'll know when you need to increase or decrease your effort. In the world of running, this practice is known as a tempo run. According to Strength Running, a tempo run is typically a slightly shorter-than-usual run done at between 85 and 90 percent of your total maximum heart rate.

It can be your guide through interval training

Interval training is another way to use a heart rate monitor to boost your workout. This kind of exercise strengthens your heart and your body by putting your cardiovascular system through a series of increases and decreases in stress. Determine your target heart rate first, and then lay out a workout plan.

Running and biking are perfect options. Begin at about 60 percent of your maximum heart rate and maintain that for 90 seconds. After this, kick up your effort until your heart rate is nearer to 85 or 90 percent of maximum. Do 30 seconds at the higher exertion level and 90 seconds at the lower one over and over until you're finished with your workout—shoot for at least 30 minutes.

Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program or making your current workouts harder.