Your pulse is the measure of the beat of your heart. What you are feeling when you feel your pulse is blood bursting through your arteries each time your heart beats. At any age, your pulse is a way to gather information on how healthy you are, if you’re stressed, or if you’re pushing hard enough during a workout.
Plus, it’s incredible to feel. Your heart spends all of its time pushing blood all throughout your body. How amazing is it to feel that happening under your fingertips?
In this article, we’ll be talking about what your pulse is, what it can tell you, and how to check your pulse.
How to Find Your Pulse
Finding your pulse is easy. Take your middle finger and your index finger and press them gently together. Then, rest those fingers against any of these locations:
- The side of your windpipe just below the jawbone. This is the carotid artery.
- On the inside of your opposite wrist just below the thumb. This is your radial artery.
- Above the highest point of the bone that runs along the top of your foot.
- Turn your arm so it’s slightly bent and your inner arm is facing up towards the ceiling. Place your fingers along the side of your arm between the crook of your elbow on the top and the pointy part of your elbow bone on the bottom. Then move your fingers an inch up your arm. You may have to press quite firmly to feel your pulse. This is your brachial artery.
Any of these will allow you to check your pulse. You may need to move your fingers around and change the pressure before you find the pulse. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t find your pulse immediately. Take a breath, move around, and try again.
Why Check Your Pulse?
Now that you know how to check your pulse, why would you want to? While your pulse is not the end all and be all of your overall health, it can provide you with some important signals. Here are four pieces of health information you can gather from checking your pulse.
1. Measure Your Resting Heart Rate
The most common reason to check your pulse is to check your resting heart rate.
Your resting heart rate is an important measure of your general heart health. When you are resting, your heart is still pumping blood to keep your body and brain functioning. However, because you are at rest, it is pumping with the least effort. At rest, your body needs the smallest amount of oxygen sent to your muscles, since they are most preoccupied with recovery, supporting your posture, and running your internal organs.
This takes significantly less energy than activities like exercise and walking. Therefore, if all is well, your heart should be working less hard and pumping at a slower rate. This slower rate is your normal resting heart rate.
Let’s look at what a resting heart rate should be. For most healthy people, normal resting heart rates range from 60 to 100 beats per minute. For well-trained athletes, a healthy heart rate can be as low as 40 beats per minute. These athlete’s hearts are better trained, stronger, and need to expend less effort to push blood through the body. A lower heart rate is generally a good sign that your fitness level is high.
Research has demonstrated that a lower heart rate is a positive sign for a person’s health. A 2010 report from the Women’s Health Initiative looked at the health of 129,135 middle-aged women over the course of about eight years.
The research showed that having a resting heart rate on the lower end of the 60 to 100 beats per minute range meant better heart health down the line. The report shows that research subjects who had the highest resting heart rates — more than 76 beats per minute — were 26 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with the lowest resting heart rates of 62 beats per minute or less.
Resting heart rate isn’t the only indicator of heart health. Resting heart rate cannot reveal problems such as high blood pressure, which can only be measured by a monitor. However, if your resting heart rate is regularly over 100 beats per minute, it’s a good idea to go speak to a healthcare professional.
To check your resting heart rate, measure your pulse first thing in the morning. When you wake up, lie in bed for a few minutes to wake up and adjust. Then, place your fingers on your pulse and count the beats for 10 seconds. Multiple the number of beats by 6 and, voila! You’ve got your resting heart rate.
2. Measure Your Exercise Heart Rate
When you are working out, sweating, and panting, measuring how fast your heart is pumping might be the last thing on your mind. But it really should be something you check each time you exercise.
When you exercise, you need to be making sure that you are reaching your target heart rate. This ensures that your exercise is reaching the appropriate level of intensity for it to have cardiovascular benefits.
Only moderate- or vigorous-level activity counts towards your necessary weekly quota of exercise to stay healthy. For example, if you are taking a leisurely stroll in the neighborhood that does not raise your heart rate, you will not be gaining any cardiovascular benefit from that exercise. You may be relaxing and having a good time (both of which are important) but you will not be reaching the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise necessary to safeguard your health.
What is the target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise? It is 50 percent of your maximum heart rate per minute.
To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate will be 180 beats per minute. If you are aiming to get moderate-intensity exercise in, you should be reaching between 50 to 70 percent of the maximum heart rate.
That means that a 40-year-old’s heart should be beating between 90 to 126 beats per minute for the duration of the workout, which should be at least 10 minutes long at a time. The recommendation is to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
If you don’t have 150 minutes a week to exercise, you can also opt to do less exercise with higher intensity. Higher intensity means getting your heart rate to between 70 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
That 40-year-old’s heart should be beating between 126 to 153 beats per minute during a vigorous exercise session. If you’re able to maintain this vigorous-intensity heart rate for at least 10 minutes a workout, you can do only 75 minutes of total exercise a week.
In short, being able to check your pulse is an easy way to check that you’re getting the workout you need. You can simply pause at regular intervals during your workout to make sure that your heart rate is where it should be.
Alternatively, you can consider using a heart rate monitor. This takes the work out of measuring your heart rate during exercise so that you can focus on your workout.
3. Check If You’re Stressed
Exercise isn’t the only thing that can get your heart rate up. Stress can also increase your heart rate, and measuring your pulse is a great way to check if you’re going through a period of anxiety.
Stress affects your heart by affecting the hormones in your bloodstream. When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise.
These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation, readying you to either fight or flight. Since neither of these two options are necessary in an average stressful situation, your heart beats away aimlessly while you sit at your desk typing furiously to hit your next deadline.
When you are stressed, your heart rate will increase above your resting heart rate. How much it increases depends on individual differences, but if you’ve checked your pulse and it’s higher than your resting heart rate without any exercise to point to, it may be because you are stressed.
Keep in mind that many things other than stress can raise your heart rate. These include:
- Body position, such as lying, sitting, or standing
- Caffeine intake
- Certain medications
- Underlying heart or thyroid conditions
Thus, don’t use a raised heart rate as the only indicator of stress. Instead, consider using Spire. Spire measures your breathing rate and assesses when your body is entering a state of stress. It then sends you a notification and lets you know it’s time to take a break. It’s much easier than constantly checking your pulse to see if you are stressed.
4. Handle an Emergency Situation
If you find someone unconscious, knowing how to check their pulse is a vital part of first aid. One of the first questions that will be asked when you call 911 is whether the person has a pulse — it’s an important indicator as to how serious the person’s condition is. It can also guide your own first aid efforts if you are trained in CPR.
Your Pulse Is the Beat of Life
In this article, you learned how to check your pulse and all of the useful things you can do with it. We hope that you go forward using this information to improve your exercise regimen, bolster your overall health, or even help save a life. Who knew heart rate measurement could be so interesting? We did — the Spire blog always has its hand on the pulse for what’s hot in the world of wellness.