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What Your Heart Rate Can Tell You About Your Health

Woman measuring heart rate

If you want a glimpse into how your heart is functioning, all you need is two fingers and fifteen seconds. You can find your resting heart rate — the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest — by simply taking your pulse. While it’s only a small part of your overall cardiovascular health, paying regular attention to this number can help you identify any changes in heart function and potentially detect early signs of heart disease. Read on to learn more about what your resting heart rate can tell you about your health.

Measuring Your Resting Heart Rate

Our heart rate changes throughout the day as we engage in activities that require various levels of oxygen. Your resting heart rate is your baseline before you tackle your daily workout or head into a stressful work meeting. Caffeine can also make the heart beat faster, so for the most accurate read of your resting heart rate, take your pulse right when you wake up, before your morning cup of coffee.

How to measure your resting heart rate

How to measure your resting heart rate

You can measure your resting heart rate by taking your pulse either on your neck or at your wrist. If checking on your neck, place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. And if you’re checking at your wrist, place those same fingers over your radial artery, located between the bone and tendon on the thumb side of your wrist. Apply enough pressure to feel every beat, but don’t push too hard since too much force can interfere with blood flow.

Once you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in fifteen seconds, and multiply it by four to calculate the number of beats per minute.

What’s a healthy resting heart rate?

Resting heart rate will vary from one person to another, but the healthy range for an adult typically falls between 60 to 100 beats per minute. In general, the lower your heart rate, the easier it is for your heart to pump blood. On the other hand, a higher heart rate means your heart is working harder, and may signal a greater risk for heart attack.

Pay attention to the rhythm of your heart in addition to the number of beats. An irregular pattern may be symptomatic of heart conditions that can cause heart attacks and strokes. An uneven heartbeat, also called an arrhythmia, can be treated, but too often people only discover it after a medical emergency. Regularly monitoring your heart rate and rhythm is one way to stay on top of any potential issues and be proactive about your health.

If you have any concerns about your resting heart rate, talk to your doctor, who can evaluate you for any heart-related health issues and determine what your normal resting heart rate should be. The most important thing is to understand your baseline and monitor for any unusual changes.

Factors That Influence Resting Heart Rate

Resting heart rate doesn’t just vary from one person to another, it can change for each of us from one day to the next. The following factors play a role in overall heart health and can influence your resting heart rate.

  • Age
  • Fitness and activity levels
  • Being a smoker
  • Having cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes
  • Air temperature
  • Body position (standing up or lying down, for example)
  • Emotional state
  • Weight
  • Medications

If you have a diagnosed heart condition, your medications and the nature of your diagnosis can potentially impact your resting heart rate, too. This is why it’s important to speak with a doctor about what your target heart rate should be.

Maximum Heart Rate and Target Heart Rate

There are two other important numbers related to your heart health: maximum heart rate and target heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate is generally the highest pulse you can get. It’s the rate your heart beats at when it’s working hardest to meet your oxygen needs. It plays a big role in determining your aerobic capacity, which is how much oxygen your body can consume.

For a rough sense of what a healthy maximum heart rate is for you, subtract your age from 220. For example, a 40-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 180 and a 50-year-old has a maximum heart rate of 170, as shown in the chart below. However, it’s important to remember that this is just a guide. Your individual maximum heart rate may be higher or lower. Your doctor can help you determine what your specific range should be.

It’s not possible to push your heart to its full aerobic capacity for an entire workout session — maximum heart rate can only be sustained for a short period of time. This is where target heart rate enters the picture. It’s the number to aim for while exercising, which varies depending on the intensity of your physical activity. For moderately intense physical activities, target heart rate is typically 50-75% of your maximum heart rate. During more vigorous exercise, it’s about 70-85% of the maximum. The chart below shows average target heart rate zones by age.

Heart rate zones

Heart rate zones

These numbers offer general guidelines, but each person’s situation is different. If you have a heart condition or take medication, talk to your doctor about recommended types of exercise and what your target heart rate should be. Keep in mind that many people begin with a lower target heart rate and gradually work their way up.

How to Lower Resting Heart Rate

An active lifestyle is key to both lowering your resting heart rate and increasing your target heart rate zones. So if you’re concerned about your heart rate, the best thing you can do is exercise more frequently. Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, which can involve:

  • Walking two miles in 30 minutes
  • Biking five miles in 30 minutes
  • 15 minutes of jump roping
  • 45 minutes of volleyball
  • 20 minutes of swimming laps

The following lifestyle changes can also help you lower your resting heart rate and increase your target heart rate zones:

  • Bring more mindfulness into your day with meditation and breathing exercises, as anxiety and stress can elevate heart rate. 
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine.
  • Drink plenty of water since dehydration can cause blood to thicken, which makes your heart work harder.
  • Focus on improving your sleep.

It may take several months before these lifestyle changes affect your heart rate, so be patient and remember that each small step will add up to better long-term heart health.

Resting Heart Rate is Just One Number

While resting heart rate can alert you to any changes in your heart’s functioning, there are various factors involved in your risk for heart disease, including your family history as well as these lesser-known risks. With heart health, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the bigger picture more so than focusing on any single number, or getting caught up on what “normal” means for other people.

The Link Between Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Paying attention to your blood pressure is another important aspect of prioritizing heart health. Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against your blood vessels. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can damage many important organs including the heart. In making the arteries less elastic and decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, it can lead to cardiovascular disease and a greater risk for heart attack and stroke.

A blood pressure reading measures two forces: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the force that occurs as blood flows out of the heart and into the arteries. Diastolic pressure is the force created when the heart fills with blood as it rests between beats. A healthy blood pressure for most adults is typically 120 mm Hg systolic and 80 mm Hg diastolic, read aloud as “120 over 80.” Both readings are important, but high blood pressure typically refers to systolic pressure.

High blood pressure is treatable, but early detection is critical. There are not usually any warning signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get your blood pressure tested.

Read our previous blog to learn more about managing blood pressure with healthy lifestyle habits.

Exceptional Pharmacy Care to Strengthen Your Heart

If you are prescribed medications for your heart, we’re here to make it as simple as possible to follow the treatment your doctor recommends. Our team of patient care pharmacists is available to walk you through dosage instructions and answer your questions. Feel free to reach out any time via text or phone at 1-800-874-5881, or in-app messaging.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.