You may already know some heart health basics, but it’s possible that some of the details remain a mystery. It’s common knowledge that your heart is beating 24/7 to pump blood through your body, but what is a healthy heart rate?
What is a Healthy Heart Rate While Resting?
Your heart rate can vary pretty widely depending on whether you’re resting or active. While you’re sitting around relaxing, your heart is beating relatively slowly, but while you’re sprinting, it’s beating much faster. Generally, a healthy resting heart rate falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But what is a healthy heart rate for serious athletes? People who take their exercise to the next level will have a resting heart rate closer to 40 to 60 beats per minute.
How to Check Your Heart Rate
The easiest way to measure your heart rate is to put two fingers (not your thumb) on your pulse at your neck (just below your jaw) and count your heartbeats while using a stopwatch to count off the time. Count the number of beats that take place in 30 seconds, and then multiply that by two to get your heart rate. You can do this while at rest or during a break in your workout.
But you can also use a heart rate monitor in a fitness-tracking device, such as a FitBit, or refer to the monitors on various cardio machines at the gym. Your smartphone might even have a heart rate monitor. But keep in mind these methods might not be completely accurate—if you want to be sure, go ahead and check your heart rate manually.
Many different factors can affect your heart rate, including whether you are sitting, lying down, or whether the room is hot or cold. If you’re checking your resting heart rate on a regular basis, try to make sure it’s under similar conditions each time.
If you find that your resting heart rate is usually above 100 beats per minute or below 60 beats per minute, talk to your doctor to see if it might indicate a more serious problem. This is especially important if you are also experiencing dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting spells.
Too High and Too Low
What can cause your resting heart rate to become too high or too low? If your resting heart rate falls outside the 60 to 100 beats per minute range, there could be a number of causes.
If your resting heart rate is below 60, it might be caused by:
• Taking certain medications (such as beta blockers)
• Previously having coronary artery disease or a heart attack
• An electrolyte imbalance
• Being a well-trained athlete (and trust me, you’d know if you were a well-trained athlete)
If your resting heart rate is above 100, it might be caused by:
• Taking certain medications (such as thyroid medication)
• Being morbidly obese
• Intense emotion
It’s important to remember that this is not a diagnosis—if your resting heart rate is too low or too high, or if you are worried about any heart problems, please talk to your doctor. We want you to get the best medical advice possible!
What is a Healthy Heart Rate While Exercising?
When you’re exercising and your muscles need more oxygenated blood sent their way, your heart is really going to start pumping, which means your heart rate is going up.
Your maximum heart rate is how fast your heart can beat when you exercise as hard as you possibly can—but staying at this rate can be a strain on your heart, so you should avoid it. Your maximum heart rate will vary according to your age. To find out your maximum heart rate, take the number 220 and subtract your age. For example, if you are 45, your maximum heart rate would be 175.
You don’t want to get too close to your maximum heart rate while exercising, because you want your heart to work hard, but not too hard. Instead, you should be aiming for your target heart rate, which is about 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. To continue with the above example, if you are 45 years old, your target heart rate during exercise is 88 to 149 beats per minute.
Try checking your heart rate periodically while exercising to see if you’re in the right range. Another good test to see if you’re working too hard is the talk test: if you’re unable to muster enough breath to have a conversation while exercising, you might be working too hard. But if talking is very easy to do, you might not be working hard enough. You want talking to be a little challenging, but still possible.
Certain high blood pressure medications will lower your maximum heart rate and affect your target heart rate. If you are on any medications, talk to your doctor to find out your target heart rate. The same thing is true if you have any heart conditions or have had cardiovascular problems in the past. It’s important to stay safe!
Keeping Your Heart Healthy
While having a healthy resting heart rate and hitting your target heart rate during exercise are both important components of heart health, it’s important to remember that these are not the only factors that contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system.
For example, your resting heart rate and your blood pressure are not the same, so even if you find that you have a healthy heart rate, it’s important to ask your doctor to check your blood pressure too. It’s also important to check your cholesterol levels and your triglyceride levels, which your doctor can do at your annual checkup. Your doctor can also advise you about how to manage all of these different aspects of cardiovascular health and help keep your heart in tip-top shape.
And of course if you want to take care of your heart—and your whole body while you’re at it—be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise most days of the week. It will make a big difference in the long run!
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/expert-answers/heart-rate/faq-20057979
American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Target-Heart-Rates_UCM_434341_Article.jsp