Whether it was your wedding day, watching a championship game, the last lap of a marathon or waking up from a nightmare, we’ve all felt our hearts racing from time to time. You can’t help but notice your heart in those moments before it settles down again to its regular rhythm.
However, quieter times when your heart beats at its usual speed can also tell you something about your heart health. As such, it is vital to pay attention to your heart rate at various times. This article will tell you how to measure and determine a healthy rate, whether it is racing or at rest.
How to Measure Your Heart Rate
Part of monitoring your heart rate involves knowing how to measure it. Though digital fitness devices like Fitbits and smartwatches can accurately determine your heart rate, it is still wise to know a low-tech way to assess your heart rate. After all, you could misplace your device or realize you forgot to charge its battery — these things happen to the best of us!
To measure your heart rate, you will need to find your pulse. You can detect your pulse in numerous areas of your body, but the standard spots for checking your pulse for measuring your heart rate are your wrist and neck. To measure your heart rate with your wrist:
- With your middle and index finger, lightly press on the opposite wrist beneath the base of the thumb.
- Set a timer for one minute and count the number of pulses you feel within that time frame.
- The number of beats you feel in one minute gives you your heart rate measured in beats per minute.
If you’re short on time, you can also count the number of beats that occur in 10 seconds, then multiply that number by six.
The process for measuring your heart rate from your neck follows the same template, but you will lightly press the side of your neck with your middle and index finger directly beneath your jawbone and count the number of beats that occur within your chosen timeframe.
What Is a Normal Heart Rate?
Your resting heart rate is your BPM while you are at rest — whether sitting down to read a good book, taking a much-deserved nap or watching the next episode of a Netflix series after a day of hard work.
For adults, a healthy resting heart rate (RHR) is anywhere between 60 and 100 BPM. However, that figure changes as we grow older. For example, a normal RHR for an infant is anywhere from 100 to 190 BPM. In contrast, that number in an adult would indicate tachycardia, or an unusually rapid heart rate, which can lead to several critical medical issues. The healthy RHR range stays the same once you reach adulthood, whether you are 20, 40 or 80.
However, the average RHR of adults varies with age and gender. For example, the average RHR for 18- to 20-year-olds is 81.6 BPM, while individuals aged 41 to 50 have an average RHR of 75.3 BPM. Moreover, adult women have an average RHR of 78 and 82 BPM, while adult men have an average RHR of 70 and 72 BPM.
What Is a Good Heart Rate for Exercising?
Understandably, your heart rate will increase when you are active. To determine a healthy heart rate for exercising, doctors compare your active heart rate to your maximum heart rate. Your heart rate while exercising is your target heart rate, which is a percentage of your maximum heart rate, and determines how hard you can safely push yourself during exercise.
What is my target heart rate? According to the American Heart Association, a healthy target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise is between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate, while vigorous exercise should result in a target heart rate of 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
With that in mind, you will need to know your maximum heart rate before you can determine your target heart rate, which requires a bit of math. The general rule of thumb for determining your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. So, someone who is 50 years old would have a maximum heart rate of 220 – 50 = 170 BPM.
To determine your target heart rate zone, you may need to blow the dust off your calculator. Someone with a maximum heart rate of 170 BPM would need to multiply that number by 0.5 and 0.7, and the two resulting numbers would indicate their target heart rate zone for moderate-intensity exercise. The correct answer to that equation is 85 BPM and 119 BPM. For vigorous exercise, they would multiply their maximum heart rate by 0.7 and 0.85 to determine their target heart rate zone.
According to the AHA, these are the average target heart rates by age, calculated between 50% and 85% of the average maximum heart rate for each.
- 20 years old: 100 to 170 BPM
- 30 years old: 95 to 162 BPM
- 35 years old: 93 to 157 BPM
- 40 years old: 90 to 153 BPM
- 45 years old: 88 to 149 BPM
- 50 years old: 85 to 145 BPM
- 55 years old: 83 to 140 BPM
- 60 years old: 80 to 136 BPM
- 65 years old: 78 to 132 BPM
- 70 years old: 75 to 128 BPM
There is also a target heart rate calculator created specifically for women known as the Gulati formula, established in 2010 from nearly four decades of gender-based studies on the target heart rate differences between men and women. This formula suggests women should calculate their maximum heart rate at 206 minus 88% of their age.
You can also speak with your doctor about determining your maximum and target heart rate, as they can give you an accurate range so you can know how hard to push yourself when exercising.
Factors That Affect Heart Rate
Many factors positively and negatively affect heart rate. Various habits like a healthy diet, regular exercise and restful sleep can boost your cardio capacity. The inverse is also true — an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and irregular sleep patterns, plus specific medical conditions, can impair your heart rate.
Here are how those variables impact your heart rate and what you can do to lower your RHR and expand your target heart rate zone.
Diet and Lifestyle Choices
High-sodium, processed foods can elevate heart rate levels. If these foods are part of your typical diet, they can harm your heart rate and overall heart health. On the other hand, studies have shown that regularly eating fish can decrease your heart rate. So, substituting ready-made meals with fresh fish could be an excellent way to achieve a lower RHR.
Other diet and lifestyle choices that impair heart rate include alcohol consumption and smoking. A 2016 study discovered a link between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular and often rapid heartbeat, while smoking can damage your overall heart health.
Exercise, or lack thereof, can make the difference between a healthy and unhealthy heart rate. Though it temporarily elevates your pulse, it also strengthens your heart muscle so it works better over time. Regular exercise lowers RHR while simultaneously expanding your target heart rate zone. As such, it is the perfect solution to improving your heart rate.
A 2020 study linked poor sleep quality with adverse changes in your heart rate and blood pressure. Conversely, consistent, good-quality sleep has numerous benefits for your heart health. As much as you can, prioritize sleeping well to improve your heart rate. Remove distractions from your bedroom and create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine to get your brain and body calm and ready for sleep.
Speaking of a racing brain, stress can also raise your RHR, as the same hormones that regulate stress also regulate heart rate. Thus, incorporating breathing exercises or meditative practices like yoga that reduce stress can lower your RHR.
Some factors, like medical conditions, are outside of your control with heart rate health. Medical conditions like thyroid disease, heart arrhythmias, infections and others can impair heart rate function. However, stress management, a healthy diet, regular exercise and good-quality sleep can also improve those conditions or prevent them from occurring.
Improve Your Heart Rate With Modern Heart and Vascular
If you are looking for more information on how to improve your heart rate, our board-certified cardiologists at Modern Heart and Vascular are here for you. We pride ourselves on our preventive approach to keeping your heart healthy and strong. Contact us for more information on how you can improve your heart rate. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.
This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.