A healthy heart doesn't beat with the regularity of clockwork. It speeds up and slows down to accommodate your changing need for oxygen as your activities vary throughout the day. A "normal" heart rate varies from person to person. However, an unusually high resting heart rate or low maximum heart rate may signify an increased risk of heart disease or other medical condition.
Your resting heart rate
When you are at rest, your heart is pumping the lowest amount of blood to supply the oxygen your body's needs. Although the official normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute, the range for most healthy adults is between 55 and 85 beats per minute.
However, other factors can affect your resting heart rate, such as
- physical activity level.
How to take your pulse
One simple thing people can do is to check their resting heart rate. It's a fairly easy to do, and having the information can help down the road. It's a good idea to take your pulse occasionally to get a sense of what's normal for you and to identify unusual changes in rate or regularity that may warrant medical attention.
- Although you may be able to feel your blood pumping in a number of places — your neck, the inside of your elbow, and even the top of your foot — your wrist is probably the most convenient and reliable place to get a good pulse.
- Press your index and middle fingers together on your wrist, below the fat pad of your thumb.
- Feel around lightly until you detect throbbing. If you press too hard you may suppress the pulse.
- You can probably get a pretty accurate reading by counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiplying that number by four.
The best time to get your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed.
What is a good resting heart rate?
There is no specific good resting heart rate. Well-trained athletes can have numbers in the 40s. But a heart rate that slow for the average person would be concerning and should prompt a call to your doctor's office, especially if you felt weak, lightheaded, or short of breath.
On the other end of the scale, a resting heart rate that is consistently above 90 beats per minute is also something your doctor should be aware of. Although it is still formally still normal, it could be a clue of something amiss, but not necessarily a serious problem.
Your maximum heart rate
The rate at which your heart is beating when it is working its hardest to meet your body's oxygen needs is your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate plays a major role in setting your aerobic capacity — the amount of oxygen you are able to consume.
Several large observational studies have indicated that a high aerobic capacity is associated with a lower risk of heart attack and death. And a small, controlled trial demonstrated that men and women with mild cognitive impairment who raised their aerobic capacity also improved their performance on tests of memory and reasoning.
Similar to resting heart, your maximum heart rate also depends on multiple factors. As people age, average maximum heart rate falls. A commonly used formula to determine your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age in years.
How exercise affects heart rate
Vigorous exercise is the best way to both lower your resting heart rate and increase your maximum heart rate and aerobic capacity. Because it's impossible to maintain a maximum heart rate for more than a few minutes, physiologists have advised setting a percentage of your maximum heart rate as a target during exercise.
If you're starting an exercise program, you may want to set your target rate at 50% of maximum, and gradually increase the intensity of your workout until you reach 70% to 80%.
However, if you don't exercise regularly, you should check with your doctor before you set a target heart rate. Some medications — particularly beta blockers — can lower your heart rate. Your doctor can help you set realistic goals.
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