How can you tell if you’re healthy? There are so many indicators you could choose from, including how long you can run, how good you feel, and how much you can lift. But if there’s one health indicator you should really be keeping track of, it’s your resting heart rate.
Research has linked a lower heart rate with heart health and general health. A huge study of 129,135 middle-aged women measured subjects’ resting heart rates at the start of the study. The study then checked on the participants regularly over the course of eight years.
After eight years, the women who maintained a lower resting heart rate had fewer incidences of cardiovascular issues and lower mortality. The women who had the highest resting heart rates were 26 percent more likely to have a heart attack by the end of the eight-year study.
So there is good evidence that having a lower heart rate is an indicator of good heart health. It makes sense: Your heart is a muscle. Just as with any other muscle, you can wear it out if you use it too much. A lower resting heart rate means that your heart isn’t getting overworked.
In this post, we’ll be going through everything you need to know when it comes to heart rate: What it is, how to measure it, and what to do about it.
What Is Your Heart Rate?
Your heart is one of the most powerful muscles in your body. It contracts at regular intervals to push blood out into your body. In any living person, the heart is always at work.
The heart is controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which is the part of your brain that controls the unconscious functions of your body, including breathing and digestion.
Your autonomic nervous system increases your heart rate based on both internal and external stimuli. Many things can increase your heart rate, including:
- Ambient temperature: Higher temperatures will increase your heart rate slightly by 5 to 10 beats per minute.
- Body position: Immediately after standing, your heart rate increases. After 15–20 seconds, it returns to your normal heart rate.
- Stress: Stress, anxiety, and other strong emotions can get your heart rate up.
- Body size: For people who are very overweight, resting heart rate may be higher.
- Medication use: Medications such as beta blockers can work to slow your resting heart rate.
- Exercise: If you are moving, your body is using more energy and needs more blood, causing your heart rate to increase.
Your resting heart rate reflects the rate that your heart beats when you are not moving, your emotional state is stable, and you are not on certain medications.
The average resting heart rate varies greatly. For healthy people, normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Rates of less than 60 beats per minute or more than 100 beats per minute can be indicative of illness.
For people who are extremely fit, such as long-distance runners or other aerobic athletes, resting heart rate can be as low as 40 beats per minute.
It’s possible to train your heart. Think of it in terms of other muscles in your body. Say you start by training your biceps with curls. At first, 20 pounds may seem very heavy and you’ll struggle to complete the set of lifts. But as you work out, your biceps become stronger. Those 20 pounds which once seemed so heavy one day seem light, and you need to increase the weight with which you are training.
Aerobic exercise trains the heart muscle in the same way. Aerobic exercises strengthen your heart so that it needs to pump fewer times to send the same amount of blood through your body. But before we get too much into how you might strengthen your heart muscle, let’s look at how you can properly measure your resting heart rate.
How to Measure Your Heart Rate
Before you measure your resting heart rate, make sure the conditions are ideal for the most accurate reading. First, try to measure your heart rate first thing in the morning, shortly after you wake up. Once you wake up, slowly rise to a seated position. Take a few deep breaths. If you find that you are stressed or worrying about something, it may be best to measure your resting heart rate another day.
If you feel fine, ready a stopwatch.
You can measure your heart rate from a variety of points on your body, including your throat, wrist, ankle, and arm. Choose an area that makes it easy to view a timer while you feel your heart rate.
To find your heart rate, press your middle finger and your index finger gently together. Then, rest those fingers on one of these places:
- The side of your windpipe just below the jawbone.
- The inside of your opposite wrist just below the thumb.
- 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.
To get the most accurate reading of your resting heart rate, count the number of beats you feel for 60 seconds. The resulting number is your resting heart rate.
You can also count it for 10 or 15 seconds and multiply the result by six or four. If you want to find an even more accurate result, measure your resting heart rate over the course of four days and take the average.
How to Lower Your Resting Heart Rate
Don’t get discouraged if your heart rate is on the high side, close to or over 100. There is a large amount of individual variability when it comes to heart rate and it is not the only indicator of bad or good health. However, it’s a great reference point for marking your health progress.
Here are the most important things you can do to lower your resting heart rate.
1. Exercise Regularly
Your heart is a muscle that needs to be strained to get stronger. The most important way you can strengthen your heart muscle is through regular, adequate exercise.
When you exercise, you need to make sure that your heart rate is increasing by an adequate amount. Just like you can’t expect to grow massive biceps by lifting a can of tuna, you can’t expect to lower your resting heart rate by taking slow, daily strolls around the block.
The good news is that there are specific definitions of what counts as sufficient exercise. Adequate exercise increases your heart rate to at least 50 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can find by subtracting 220 by your age.
Your maximum heart rate is as fast as your heart should beat during exercise. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes vigorous exercise per week for good overall health.
Moderate exercise increases your heart rate from 50 to 70 percent of your target heart rate. Vigorous exercise increases your heart rate from 70 to 85 percent of your target heart rate. If you’re not fit or you’re a newbie to exercise, aim for the lower end of the ranges and build up the intensity.
For example, say you are 45 years old and looking to do some vigorous intensity exercise. Subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your maximum heart rate.
Next, multiply 175 by 0.7 and 0.85 to get 122.5 and 148.75. Your target for your vigorous intensity training zone heart rate should be between 123 and 149 beats per minute. Don’t worry about being super precise unless you are a high-level athlete.
Use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise:
- Stop momentarily
- Check your heart rate for 10 seconds
- Multiply this number by six to calculate your beats per minute
Although 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity seems like a lot of time, it really isn’t. It’s equivalent to watching one movie a week, which many of us already do. In fact, why not bring your tablet with you to the elliptical and watch a movie while you exercise?
What’s more, you can break the duration into 10-minute bursts. As long as you can maintain your target heart rate for at least 10 minutes, it counts towards your weekly requirement.
As you exercise more and more, your resting heart rate will lower.
2. Reduce Stress
Constant stress can raise your resting heart rate and cause a lot of personal unhappiness. Integrate stress management activities into your daily life with things such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises.
These relaxation techniques moderate your brain’s autonomic response, which controls your resting heart rate. When you teach your mind to remain calm and relaxed throughout the day, your resting heart rate will also lower over time.
Consider adding Spire as an element to your stress management routine. Spire tracks your level of stress and sends you helpful notifications to tell you when you are getting too anxious. This lets you know that it’s time to take a relaxation moment to yourself.
3. Quit Tobacco Products
Smoking weakens the heart and stiffens arteries, making it harder for your heart to pump blood, raising your resting heart rate. Find the support you need to quit smoking so you can bring your resting heart rate back down. This will also make exercising and breathing easier.
4. Lose Weight
If you are significantly overweight, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body. It will pump faster to make sure that every part of your body is getting the blood supply you need. Bringing your weight down to a healthy level should bring your resting heart rate down.
Enjoy Your New Low Heart Rate
Feeling healthy is just as important as being healthy. When you have a low resting heart rate, it’s a great indicator that you are healthy.
Lowering your resting heart rate is the same as creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The things you can do to lower your resting heart rate are the same things you should be doing to live a long, happy, and healthy life.