Heart Rate and Your Health

Your heart rate, or pulse, is the measure of how many times your heart beats in one minute. Normal heart rate can vary, however most resources suggest that a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute is considered normal.1,3,4 Beating at an average rate of 80 times per minute, the adult heart beats over 120,000 times in just 24 hours.

Although there is a wide range for “normal” resting heart rate, a persistent or unusually high or low heart rate may indicate an underlying problem. 

When determining if there is a problem, you must take into consideration the many factors that can influence heart rate, including: medications, body size, stress or anxiety, body position (sitting or lying down), air temperature, fitness level, activity level and certain foods and beverages.1

Checking your heart rate

Research suggests that heart rate levels can be a predictor for overall heart health.2 Your doctor may recommended that you periodically check your resting heart rate and report any significant changes or persistent abnormalities for further evaluation and treatment. Checking your pulse is easy to do. Place your index and middle finger on your wrist, just below your thumb. Use a stopwatch and count the number of beats over 60 seconds. You can also feel for your pulse along the side of your neck.3

Some tips for checking your heart rate include:

  • Wait at least one to two hours after exercise or a stressful event.
  • Wait at least an hour after consuming caffeine (can elevate heart rate).
  • The best time to check your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning before getting out of bed.
  • Keep a log of your heart rate readings, including time of day, any irregularity in the heart beat and any related factors to discuss with your physician.3

Irregularities in resting heart rate (too fast, too slow or irregular rhythm) may be a sign of a more serious medical problem. These irregularities may cause symptoms including lightheadedness, palpitations or shortness of breath.4 If you develop symptoms such as  sudden chest pains, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, confusion or significant weakness, consider immediate evaluation at the closest emergency facility. Otherwise, consult with your physician regarding a monitoring and treatment plan to keep your heart rate in normal range and your heart healthy for the long term.

Your physician may recommend weight loss, dietary changes, exercise, stress management or medications as solutions to reduce a higher than normal resting heart rate.2

Tracking heart rate with technology

Technology today allows for monitoring of many things at home. There are several apps available that can calculate heart rate by using your mobile phone or tablet’s camera and flash to detect blood flow through your fingertip. There are also devices that are worn like a watch that can monitor and track heart rate. You should discuss with your physician the best method for monitoring your heart rate at home.

References:

  1. Laskowski, E.R., MD. Heart Rate: What’s a Normal Resting Heart Rate? August 22, 2015. Retrieved from the website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/heart-rate/faq-20057979.   
  2. Arnold, J.M. et al. Resting heart rate: A modifiable prognostic indicator of cardiovascular risk and outcomes? Can J Cardiol. 2008 May; 24(Suppl A): 3A–8A. Retrieved from the website: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787005/.   
  3. Solan, M. Your Resting Heart Rate Can Reflect Your Current – and Future – Health. Harvard Health Blog. April 20, 2017. Retrieved from the website: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/resting-heart-rate-can-reflect-current-future-health-201606179806.
  4. American Heart Association. All About Heart Rate (Pulse). www.heart.org. August 22, 2017.