3 Things You Can Learn From Your Resting Heart Rate

Mackenzie Lobby Havey
by Mackenzie Lobby Havey
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3 Things You Can Learn From Your Resting Heart Rate

When it comes to measuring fitness and monitoring potential health issues, there are few numbers more helpful or convenient than your resting heart rate (RHR). While a normal RHR or pulse differs from one individual to another, if you keep track of it over time, it can elicit some important data regarding your health and fitness.

Resting heart rate is measured by beats per minute or BPM. For the super fit, RHR tends to be lower because a healthy heart is able to pump more blood with each beat with greater efficiency, thus requiring fewer beats per minute to pump blood throughout the body. Conversely, an elevated heart rate can be a sign of health issues.

Resting heart rate is particularly useful because the numbers aren’t influenced by outside factors in the same way as if you were to take your heart rate after exercise or a long day of work. When you take your resting heart rate as soon as you wake up, you’re more likely to be calm and unencumbered by stress the way you might be later in the day. This is also typically the time when your heart will be pumping the lowest volume of blood because you’re at rest.

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How to Take Your Resting Heart Rate

There are several approaches you can take to measure your resting heart rate. No matter how you do it, RHR should be taken within a few minutes of waking up before your feet hit the floor. To do it the old fashioned way you can take your radial (wrist) or carotid (neck) pulse rate.

Simply take your index and middle fingers and find your pulse on the inside of your opposite wrist or on the side of your neck. Once you locate the beat, hold your fingers in place for 15 seconds or 30 seconds, counting each heartbeat. For the former, multiply by 4 and the latter multiply by 2 for your RHR.

If you’re the more high tech type, you can also use a heart rate monitor or even a smartphone app to measure. Just be sure to have the device handy at your bedside so you don’t need to go on a hunt to find it. It depends on your preferences, but both methods are equally useful and accurate.

What the Numbers Should Say

According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate for adults is between 60-100 beats per minute. Well-trained athletes tend to fall somewhere between 40-60 beats per minute. Regardless of what your RHR is, that first baseline measurement will be an important number by which you’ll be able to spot trends over time. This is why it is important to regularly check your RHR.

1. If, for example, you notice that your RHR is rising, it could be an early warning sign of a heart problem. Much research has been devoted to demonstrating the link between elevated heart rate and the development of conditions such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and other cardiovascular diseases.

2. Alternatively, you can also experience a reduction in your RHR as a result of increased fitness, meaning your heart is working more efficiently. These numbers can be especially motivating as you progress through a workout program or training regimen. When you notice your RHR slowly declining over weeks and months, it’s an indication you’re getting fitter.

3. Your RHR can also be a signal that you’re going overboard with exercise. If you’re executing a lot of hard workouts in a short amount of time, your RHR may rise. This is likely your body telling you to back off and take extra rest time.

Methods for Lowering Resting Heart Rate

There’s a reason they call them “cardio” workouts. As previously noted, exercise is perhaps your best bet when it comes to decreasing your resting heart rate and boosting heart health. Going hand-in-hand with that is good nutrition and achieving a healthy weight.

Hydration also plays a role in keeping your heart healthy. To be sure, good hydration means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood through the body. This thereby increases the overall efficiency of your cardiovascular system.

Another factor that can increase your risk of heart issues is poor sleep  over a prolonged period of time. When you get the right amount of high quality sleep, blood pressure and heart rate drop overnight, giving your heart a break.  What’s more, not enough sleep has also been connected to weight gain, which is yet another factor that can affect resting heart rate and heart health.

You are also at the mercy of your own genetics when it comes to RHR and some folks are born with a naturally lower RHR than others. This is why keeping track of your own individual numbers is the most useful method to determine both positive and negative health outcomes, rather than relying on blanket recommendations alone. When it comes down to the hard numbers, you should always consult your doctor to help you determine what is and isn’t healthy over the long run.


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About the Author

Mackenzie Lobby Havey
Mackenzie Lobby Havey

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. She has run 14 marathons and is currently training for her first IRONMAN. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.


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