Few things are as important to your physical fitness as your heart. And when it comes to measuring your heart’s health, you may be overwhelmed by all the guidelines and numbers. Decoding a resting heart rate by age chart may be confusing, and what is a resting heart rate anyway?

Your resting heart rate is a key measure of your cardiovascular fitness. This vital sign is a major tool that can help determine if you are at risk for a serious circulatory condition. So, read on for a run-down of all you need to know about resting heart rate.

What is the Resting Heart Rate

In order to determine how healthy your heart is, you need to know if you have a normal resting heart rate. But before you can make sense of your heart rate, you first need to understand what it is that you’re tracking, and why your resting heart rate is important.

  • According to the American Heart Association, your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute while it’s at rest. Your heart rate is measured in beats per minute bpm.1
  • Your resting heart rate measures your heart at its slowest while you’re still awake. It’s an indicator of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood while you’re calm, sitting or lying down, and not sick.2
  • Resting heart rate is different from max heart rate, or max hr. This is the fastest your heart can safely beat while you’re exercising or engaging in other strenuous activity.3
  • Heart rate is also different from blood pressure. Your heart rate measures how fast your heart is beating, while blood pressure is how much force your blood flow puts against your blood vessels as it travels through your body.4
  • Resting heart rate is one vital sign used to measure your cardiovascular health. Another way to track your heart health is by measuring your respiratory rate, which is how many breaths you take per minute.5

Although your resting heart rate is just one measure of heart fitness, understanding these numbers can be an important piece in the puzzle of your cardiovascular health. The strength of your heart is a major factor in determining how frequently it must pump to move blood through your body.

How do I Find the Normal Resting Heart Rate for my Age and Sex?

When it comes to determining a normal healthy heart rate, there is no one single “good” normal rate. Numerous factors, including your age, sex, and the level of activity you engage in, can shift this number higher or lower. Your healthy target heart rate depends on these factors.

  • It’s normal for your target resting heart rate to get lower as you age, because your heart is better able to pump blood through your whole body with fewer beats. Children have the highest normal heart rates, and adult target heart rates are slower.6
  • To determine the ideal normal resting heart rate for you, you can consult a resting heart rate by age chart, like one issued by the American Heart Association. These charts are only general guidelines, so keep that in mind.7
  • Resting Heart Rate | Activated YouIn general, a lower resting heart rate is healthier than a high resting heart rate. It means your heart is able to move blood through your body more effectively with fewer pumps.8
  • Although your target heart rate varies by age and sex, generally speaking, most adults will find that a healthy target heart rate falls between 60-100 beats per minute.9

Now, the information above provides a broad framework for determining if your heart rate is healthy, or if it’s higher or lower than normal. If you want to know your perfect target heart rate, consult your doctor.

How does Physical Activity Affect Resting Heart Rate?

You’ve know exercise is important to your fitness and heart health. But you may not realize that an active lifestyle can change your ideal healthy resting heart rate.

  • When you exercise, your heart has to work harder to provide your muscles with the oxygen they need to keep working. A strong heart is better equipped to pump blood even when you’re not exercising, which means your resting heart rate will decrease over time.10
  • A normal resting heartbeat for athletes is much lower than a resting heart rate for non-athletes. Someone who is young and frequently physically active can expect their resting heart rate to be between 30-40 beats per minute.11
  • All exercise is not equal. To determine the best level of intensity for you, you need to calculate your heart rate zone. This is a sweet spot between your resting heart rate and max heart rate that’s healthy for you without putting too much stress on your heart. Again, it is best to speak to your doctor about this.12
  • To evaluate how effective your exercise is, you can measure your recovery heart rate, or your heart rate one minute after you stop exercising. This can measure how long it takes your heart to recover after a tough workout.13
  • A great workout plan includes aerobic exercise, which speeds up your heart rate during your workout and strengthens your heart overall. You’ll see the best results from moderate aerobic exercise – a physical activity that increases your breath rate but doesn’t leave you so short of breath that you’re unable to talk. Speak to a medical or fitness professional about the workout plan that is right for you.14

When you exercise regularly, you strengthen your heart muscle, which makes it more able to pump blood through your body with fewer beats. A strong heart is better able to maintain a normal heart rate, or even a healthy slow heart rate.

You may need to speak with a doctor about your exercise plan to determine what level of intensity would be safest for you.

Resting Heart Rate | Activated You

Physical Activity Target Rates care of The American Heart Association

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

You know your ideal resting heart rate and a healthy target for exercise, but none of that means anything unless you know your own specific resting heart rate.

  • You can measure your heart rate by counting the number of beats you feel in your neck or in your wrist, where your radial artery is closest to the surface. Press down using two fingers for 15 seconds and multiply your results by four to get beats per minute.15
  • For an accurate resting heart rate, you want to sit (or otherwise rest) for at least five minutes before you take your measurements because your heart rate increases when you move around even a little bit.16
  • Wrist monitors that athletes use when working out can also provide an accurate resting heart rate. Although they’re designed for a workout, you’ll want to use these monitors after you’ve been resting, just like you would when measuring with your fingers.17

Tracking your own resting heart rate is a great way to ensure that you’re within a normal range, or to find out right away if your heart rate is higher or lower than usual. Measure your resting heart rate regularly, so you know what’s normal for you.

Irregular Resting Heart Rates

Now, normal heart rates are between 60-100 beats per minute, and your pulse should keep a regular, recurring rhythm. If that doesn’t describe your own heart rate, you may have arrhythmia – or an irregular heart rate. If you suspect that your heart rate is irregular, consult a medical professional, ideally before working out strenuously.

Resting Heart Rate | Activated YouIrregular heart rhythm is often one of the first symptoms of a potentially larger cardiovascular issue. Not having a normal resting heart rate might lead to other issues or conditions.

  • Sinus tachycardia is a condition in which your heart beats at a regular pace, but the rate is higher than normal. Symptoms of sinus tachycardia include feeling tired or lightheaded, or having pain in the chest.18
  • Atrial fibrillation (or AFib)can cause the heart to beat quickly; it can also cause an irregular pulse. AFib has numerous causes, including hypertension, previous or ongoing heart ailments, heavy alcohol use, heart attacks, or medications you may be taking.19
  • A low resting heart rate is called bradycardia. While this might be a symptom of a more serious condition, bradycardia is common in athletes and can be a sign of a healthy heart. Generally, lower heart rates are good.20
  • Some medications, like beta blockers or calcium channel blockers, slow down your heart and may bring your resting heart rate to below a normal range. If you are concerned by this, speak to your doctor.21,22
  • If a doctor diagnoses you with an arrhythmia or unusual heart rate, you may need a pacemaker to monitor and control your heart rate, to help keep it within a normal range.23

If you have cardiovascular disease, or think you may be at higher risk for it, your irregular heart rate may be an early indicator. If you don’t have a normal heart rate, speak to a doctor about your symptoms and to explore various treatment options.

Does Mental Stress Affect the Flow of Blood to the Heart?

You’ve probably thought of how factors like your weight, your diet, and the amount of exercise you get all impact your flow of blood and your heart health. But if you’re not considering your stress level, you’re missing an important key to cardiovascular fitness and maintaining a normal heart rate.

  • Stress can increase your risk of sinus tachycardia, or a regular, but a fast heartbeat. If untreated, sinus tachycardia can lead to dangerous conditions, including heart attack.
    Stress may lead you to develop high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for more serious circulatory issues.25
  • Even if your stress level doesn’t lead directly to circulatory issues, many stress coping measures are potentially harmful. Stress-induced bad habits like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating can increase your risk of poor heart health.26
  • Practicing good stress management techniques can increase your heart health and your overall well being. To decrease your stress level, try deep breathing exercises, yoga, or even take a 30-minute walk.27,28

Resting Heart Rate | Activated YouFitness is about your body, your mind, and your emotions. A healthy lifestyle includes a balance of healthy behaviors that support all three sides of your health. If you neglect your mind or your emotions, you may see consequences for your body.

Unmanaged stress doesn’t just lead to mental or emotional health problems, it can be a major risk factor to your overall heart health as well. If you think you have too much stress, look into a good stress management program.

How does Aerobic Exercise Improve Women’s Health?

Your gender is one of several factors that helps to determine your healthiest resting heart rate. If you’re a woman, you can expect certain outcomes from exercise and cardiovascular health that would not apply to men, and you’re also subject to a different set of risks.

  • Because women are statistically more likely to have an abnormally fast resting heart rate than men, it’s especially important for them to engage in regular physical activity to preserve their cardiovascular health and prevent serious conditions.29
  • Fewer than half of all adult women meet the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines. That means that one out of two women isn’t getting enough aerobic exercise to improve or maintain heart health.30
  • Women are recommended to get two-and-a-half hours of aerobic activity per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, although it’s not necessary to follow that schedule. Aerobic exercise is beneficial as long as it lasts a minimum of 10 minutes.31
  • Women, in particular, often have few or no signs of heart disease, but stress can often trigger heart attacks or symptoms that would otherwise be invisible. Take control of your health now, before it reaches that point.32
  • When you exercise, your heart rate will increase and approach its maximum heart rate. As men get older, their maximum heart rate decreases, but female athletes tend to have a much higher target exercise heart rate, even as they grow older.33

Regardless of your gender, aerobic exercise is almost always a positive choice that can help your heart. But if you’re a woman, aerobic exercise is particularly important to help you maintain a normal heart rate for your whole life.

Caring for Your Heart at Rest

Now, there are lots of ways to track heart health, and each measure plays an important role in helping you determine how healthy your cardiovascular system is. While you may focus on the importance of exercise and staying active, you also want to note how your heart performs as you move.

Now that you understand what a resting heart rate is, and how to track it, you have plenty of basic information to ensure your heart is healthy!

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